Thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an office without them. They’re everywhere and stuck on everything. They’re on computer monitors, refrigerators, in planners, notebooks, pinned to your kid’s jacket when they come home, they’re on whiteboards – anywhere you can think to put one… they’re there.
The ubiquitous Post-it® Note.
I know that sounds a little more ominous than I intended, but… think about it – they really are everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a desk without one. They’re convenient and versatile, and they’ve only been around since 1980.
Here at SAGE, we love a good origin story, especially stories about how industry staples got their start. This is the story of the Post-it® Note.
3M was founded in Two Harbors, Minnesota, in 1902 as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. They had a simple goal in mind – mine the ideal mineral for making sandpaper and grinding wheels: corundum. However, they weren’t exactly mining corundum. They were mining anorthosite – another type of common mineral. This mistake could have proven disastrous, but as we know with many successful businesses – mistakes can oftentimes lead to innovation.
With the help of investor Lucius P. Ordway, they moved to Duluth, Minnesota. They then found success with their first exclusive product – the 3M Three-M-ite cloth – an abrasive cloth still used in many different applications today, from wood polishing and finishing to automotive applications. After World War I, they continued innovating and thus can be credited with things we see and use every day, from masking and cellophane tape to reflective sheeting on traffic signs. They also developed the classic and iconically shaped tape dispenser found in offices around the globe. They didn’t limit themselves to just Earth, however, their products have even been to space.
I’m sure you can already guess what 3M began to excel in – other than innovation – and that was producing strong good-quality adhesive.
This brings us to the 70s.
3M Scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was looking to invent a bigger, stronger, and tougher adhesive – something that even he admits he didn’t do. However, he did discover a type of adhesive that stuck to surfaces but was repositionable and didn’t leave behind a residue. Silver initially had a hard time trying to find a use for his invention of the adhesive but wouldn’t give up and eventually became known as “Mr. Persistant” within the walls of 3M.
Enter Art Fry, another 3M scientist. If you’ve ever heard the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, this is truly the perfect example. Every Wednesday night, Fry would attend his church choir practice and use little slips of paper to mark the hymns they would be singing for the upcoming Sunday service. Each Sunday morning when he would open his hymnal, he would find that the little slips of paper had fallen out. He needed something to mark those pages that wouldn’t cause damage to the thin, delicate paper. Fry had an idea.
He recalled that he had attended a seminar presented by Silver on his unique adhesive and approached Silver about partnering on the project. What they discovered would change offices forever. This small adhesive sliver of paper that was initially created based on the need for a bookmark quickly became a way to communicate, and to remember important meetings and memos. It was something special.
Fry decided to test out his new product and made 3M’s corporate headquarters the first test group. He gave the entire company the new notes, and they loved them.
Post-it® Notes made their market debut on April 6th, 1980. The iconic canary yellow color became a best seller – pervasive within the world of business. Just a few short years later, the Post-it® Note then entered the promotional products industry.
Alisa Nickel is the Contract Marketing Director for 3M Promotional Markets – the promotional products side of 3M. They specialize in the promotional products industry – whether it’s a custom die-cut or full-color imprint on each sheet, they can handle it all for you.
Alisa not only firmly stands behind each product they sell – she has been known to test them out too. Back in 2019, shortly after releasing a new product called Post-it® Note Extreme that can withstand the elements with outdoor use, Alisa wanted to give it a try. So, after a polar vortex dumped a ton of snow on North Mankato, Minnesota that winter (where they have been headquartered since 1962) – leaving huge snow piles in 3M’s parking lot – she decided to climb one and stick the Post-it® Note Extreme to a street light.
It’s still there today.
Innovation has always been at the forefront of 3M’s business practices – most recently seen through their efforts with sustainability. The plant in Cynthiana, Kentucky – and the maker of Post-it® Notes, has maintained a completely zero waste to landfill status since 2016. As we look to the future, 3M is continuing to evolve their processes and products to ensure that they meet their Sustainability Value Commitment.
For as long as we can remember, 3M’s brand has been a staple in office supplies, including their excellent paper products, and more. The company is constantly inventing and growing – and we’re excited to see how their forward-thinking and focus on sustainability continues to change the promotional products industry in the future. Just like the Post-it® Note did almost thirty-five years ago.
To learn more about 3M Promotional Markets (SAGE# 55850) and all the neat options they offer like custom shapes and printing your logo or design in full four-color process to make the most unique and extraordinary Post-it® Notes you’ve ever seen, visit their website here.