On April 6, 1980, 3M began selling Post-it notes, which would become an iconic staple of offices, homes, and classrooms worldwide. These small pieces of paper with a sticky adhesive have changed how we organize our lives and communicate.
The story of the Post-it note began in the late 1960s when a scientist at 3M named Spencer Silver was working on developing a strong adhesive. However, he created a weak one that could barely stick to anything. Silver’s invention seemed like a failure, and for several years, it sat unused in 3M’s labs.
Then, in 1974, Silver realized the possibilities of his invention when a colleague at 3M named Art Fry needed help keeping bookmarks in his hymnal. Fry was frustrated by how the bookmarks would fall out, and he remembered Silver’s weak adhesive. He thought it would be ideal for his bookmark needs, and he was right. Silver helped Fry create small sheets of paper with a light adhesive on the back, and the Post-it note was born.
Fry and Silver spent several years refining the product and trying to persuade their bosses at 3M to invest in it. The company was skeptical of the market potential of such a product but eventually gave in and decided to launch it as a test market in four cities in 1980.
The original Post-it note was yellow and came in a small, rectangular size. Its adhesive would stick to paper but could be easily removed without damaging the surface or leaving any residue. The launch of Post-it notes was slow as people initially did not know what to make of them. However, they gained traction due to 3M’s marketing campaign that relied heavily on sampling. The company mailed free samples to office managers nationwide to try out, and it was a hit with workers.
Today, there are over six hundred Post-it products, including Super Sticky Notes, which have a stronger adhesive, and Post-it Flags, which can be used to mark pages in books or documents.
In addition to being a ubiquitous office supply, Post-it notes have also played a role in several historical events. During the 1991 Gulf War, soldiers used Post-it notes to communicate with each other and with people back home. They would often write messages on Post-its and stick them on tanks, airplanes, or walls. In 2003, residents of New York City used Post-it notes to create a makeshift memorial wall after the September 11 attacks. They stuck thousands of notes on a building near Ground Zero, creating a poignant tribute to the victims.