Forty-three years ago, in 1977, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, known today as 3M, rolled out a new product in four American cities. This, several years after product developer Spencer Silver worked to create a stronger adhesive than the world had yet seen. He failed.
What he came up with instead was a mildly sticky adhesive that could be removed and re-stuck on smooth surfaces. That wasn’t going to work for the project he had in mind, but Silver wasn’t convinced his not-so-sticky glue wouldn’t eventually be good for something.
It took someone else to come up with the something. Art Fry was a forty-three-year-old 3M developer and committed church choir member who used scraps of paper to mark the weekly songs in his hymnal. The problem he ran into is that his makeshift bookmarks fell out of place all the time. He needed something sticky, but just not sticky enough to damage the pages of his hymnal.
Fry remembered hearing about his coworker’s sticky-but-not-too sticky glue and began to formulate an idea. He grabbed some yellow scrap paper from the lab next door, applied Silver’s glue and started scribbling away.
What hadn’t appealed to the test markets in the original four cities as Press ‘n Peels, took off when it was rebranded as Post-It Notes and given out as samples in Boise, Idaho where ninety-four percent of the people who gave them a go said they’d happily buy their own pad.
Suddenly office workers had a way to quickly make a note on a coworker’s report, label their sandwich in the break room fridge, and bookmark their choir music on the weekends. The more people used the Post-It, the more they realized they weren’t sure what they’d ever done without it.
I get it that. The Post-It Note is a staple in my world. I use them to write messages to my family and stick them in in their line of sight. They mark important places in my research tomes and endless collections of notes. When knee deep in revisions, Post-Its feature scribbled reminders that if I’m going to kill off so-and-so in Chapter 11, I need to drop a hint of his terrible illness into Chapter 3.
These little scraps of sticky paper seem like such an insignificant thing, and while I’m sure I could manage to get a long without them, I’m glad I’ve never had to. And I really haven’t, because we grew up together.
I’m about to turn forty-three myself, which seems like a fairly insignificant birthday. I’m at that age when I have to do the math to even remember how old I really am. But I do hope that like the Post-It Note I’m pretty handy to have around, that I stick to the important things, and that I’d be a hit in Boise if I ever had the inclination to go there.
And I hope that like the then forty-three-year old Art Fry, I’ve still got a few good ideas up my sleeves.