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Who Invented the Post-it Note? A History of Sticky Paper

Alyssa Mertes

Published: February 23rd, 2021

Sticky notes are faithful friends, giving us a nudge about groceries we want to buy, tasks we need to do at the office, and homework we can't forget about. With so much use, your mind might be blown to learn that these tiny pieces of yellow paper were invented totally by accident!

If you have time, stick here as we get into the crazy journey of the Post-it Note. It's a tale that involves makeshift bookmarks, chemical labs, and a brilliant marketing strategy known as the “Boise Blitz.”

Quote

It's interesting in this electronic age that Post-it Notes, which require setting pen to paper, continue to gain popularity. Post-its still cling – lightly and conveniently – to the popular landscape.

– Liz Stevens journalist at the Star Tribune in Minnesota

Hour Glass

History of Post-it Notes Timeline

Post-it Notes haven't changed much since they first came on the market. Although technology is more advanced than ever, we still rely on these memo sheets for our daily reminders.

  • 1968

    Dr. Spencer Silver Source: https://www.post-it.com

    Dr. Spencer Silver created the adhesive that came to be used on the back of Post-it Notes. His initial invention wasn't taken seriously by the scientific community.

  • 1974

    Arthur Fry Source: https://www.kiwico.com

    Arthur Fry, a scientist at 3M, took Silver's adhesive and stuck it to the back of paper. His initial reason was to mark passages in his hymn book during Wednesday night choir practices.

  • 1978

    Press 'n Peel Source: https://www.timetoast.com

    3M marketed the sticky notes under the name "Press 'n Peel." The product was successful due to a marketing strategy known as "Boise Blitz," which had employees handing out free samples to a focus group in Boise, Idaho.

  • 1980

    Post-it note Source: http://www.magicmode.com

    After sampling in 11 states across the country, 3M officially released the first Post-it Notes. They were a massive success right away, resulting in over $2 million in sales after only a year on the marketplace.

  • 1984

    Graydon E. Thompson Source: https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com

    Post-it Notes started being printed with company logos. 3M's marketing manager at the time, Graydon E. Thompson, believed businesses and non-profits would benefit from advertising on Post-it Notes.

  • 1997

    Post-it Flag Highlighters Source: https://www.imprintitems.com

    Post-it Flag Highlighters made their debut and have since received high praise from students. It's a two-in-one office product that makes it easier to mark pages and take detailed notes.

  • Mid-2000s

    Digital sticky notes Source: https://appadvice.com

    Tablets and cell phones have special apps where you can create digital sticky notes. Even in this tech-centered world, classic office supplies like Post-it Notes never go out of style!

  • 2011

    30th anniversary of Post-it Source: Brand Packaging, January 1, 2011

    The 30th anniversary of Post-it was celebrated in Sweden with limited edition boxes. The box contained 500 sticky note sheets and was decorated in a retro-style that referred to the brand as the "vintage Twitter."

  • 2013

    Madalyn Fusco Post-it Source: http://www.startribune.com

    3M enlisted the help of 16 design students to create limited edition Post-it Notes. The ones pictured here were designed by Madalyn Fusco, who at the time was a senior at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

  • 2018

    Post-it Extreme Notes Source: https://the-gadgeteer.com

    Post-it Extreme Notes are designed to withstand tough conditions. They're built from water-resistant materials, making them good for indoor use in the kitchen and outdoor use at places like construction sites.

Where Are Sticky Notes Made?

3M building https://www.jeffersonlines.com/

Sticky notes, or Post-it Notes, are made at the 3M factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. 3M is one of the biggest companies in the U.S. and is well-known for not just Post-it Notes, but also Scotch tape, Nexcare medical supplies, Ace bandages, and Littmann stethoscopes.

3M building https://www.jeffersonlines.com/

3M is huge in the world of office supplies and medical equipment, but that wasn't always the case. They actually started out with a focus on mining, specifically for a mineral that was used to make sandpaper. It didn't take long for the company to set their sights on new growth opportunities, leading their scientists to experiment with different materials and applications. By 1968, all this innovation led to the accidental creation of the Post-it Note!

3M building https://www.bizjournals.com

You are hard-pressed to avoid using 3M products today. They're a global conglomerate with an estimated net worth of $5 billion and a reoccurring spot on the Fortune 500 list.

Did you know?

The name “3M” comes from the three M's found in their original name: Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing.

Who Invented the Post it?

Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver https://www.cnn.com/

Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver are credited for inventing the Post-it Note. Silver created microspheres completely by accident in 1968. Fry then stuck these strong sticky orbs to paper and used it as a bookmark in church. The rest is history!

Fry shared the sticky paper with his co-workers, family, friends, and other members of Wednesday night choir practice at North Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Nobody really understood what all the fuss was about. With some marketing magic from 3M, however, 20 pads of sticky notes were being used per person across the United States by the end of 1974.

Unfortunately, neither Fry nor Silver received any royalties on sales. Still, they deserve credit! You have these two gentlemen to thank every time you jot down a memo.

Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver https://www.cnn.com/
Did you know?

The only patent that exists for Post-it Notes is on Silver's microspheres. To this day, 3M will not disclose how they add the adhesive to the paper.

Why Are Sticky Notes Yellow?

Sticky note on wall

Sticky notes are usually yellow because that's the type of paper that was lying around at the 3M factory when they were first created in 1974.

Dr. Geoff Richardson, an executive at 3M, allowed his employees 15% of their working hours to dedicate to personal projects. Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry used that time to combine the sticky microspheres with the paper they had on hand, which was canary yellow scrap sheets. 3M loved the product and eventually became interested in selling it.

The color may not have been chosen on purpose, but it definitely worked out in the long run. You can see that neon yellow a mile away, which makes for a much more effective reminder than a color that blends into the background.

Sticky note on wall

How Were Post Its Invented?

The Post-it was invented totally by accident. Spencer Silver was working in the lab one day, and without meaning to, created microspheres – sticky orbs that wouldn't dissolve or melt down. At first, 3M didn't have a plan for the microspheres, but after seeing how much people loved Arthur Fry's sticky paper, soon began to have it created at the factory.

3M's sticky paper, the “Press ‘n Peel,” was offered in 4 cities around the U.S. in 1978. It received mixed reviews and not a ton of attention. The tables turned, however, when 3M tried a new marketing strategy – the “Boise Blitz.”

Cartoon of 3m giving post-its in Boise Idaho https://sdasia.co/2015/07/10/

This involved changing the name to “Post-it Notes” and offering free samples to focus groups in Boise, Idaho. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the sampling continued in 11 other states. At the end of the campaign, 90% of consumers were interested in 3M's new product.

By the end of the year, Post-it Notes were sold nationally, earning more than $2 million in sales. Today, the Post-it is available in 27 sizes, 57 colors, and 20 fragrances in more than 150 countries. They offer a total of 4,000 products and continue to grow!

Quote

Some ideas stick, others don't. The Post-it emphatically did. Post-it Notes have become ubiquitous in stationary cupboards worldwide.

– Nick Glass, Journalist at CNN

How Are Post-it Notes Used in Advertising?

Newspaper clipping Marketing News, publication of the American Marketing Association

3M's marketing manager in the mid-80s, Graydon E. Thompson, explored ways to increase the Post-it Note's exposure. His idea was to start customizing sticky notes with company logos. These could then be used as giveaways or gifts at trade shows and other promotional events.

With new color and size options, it was easy for Thompson to pitch Post-it Notes to promotional products distributors. It was a product with a good track record and people of all ages were using them at home, school, and work. It only made sense for companies to print their logo or advertising message on each sheet for additional brand exposure.

Newspaper clipping Marketing News, publication of the American Marketing Association

It's now difficult to imagine corporate events, meetings, and trade shows without Post-it Notes. They have become one of the most popular advertising giveaways of all time and helped catapult Post-it to stardom!

Quote

Banks might use Post-it Notes when opening up new branches, pharmaceutical houses might give the notes to doctors. All of this was possible because of thorough marketing research.

– Graydon Thompson former Marketing Manager at 3M

Why Do People Use Sticky Notes?

The world of organization wouldn't be the same without sticky notes. People use them to write to-do lists, study for school, and keep track of tasks at work. They can even be used to change the world and lift people's spirits!

Here are all the ways sticky notes are used:

Markers and sticky notes

Jotting Down Memos at Work

Post-it Notes have come to define the culture of a typical office building. If you watch the show “The Office,” there's even an episode where Michael Scott (played by Steve Carrell) pretends to fire his receptionist for sticky note theft. Almost every company is attached to the sticky notes in their supply closets!

Teacher pulling sticky note https://www.teachers.net/

Better Learning in the Classroom

One of the highest ranking schools in New York, Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, relies on sticky notes to increase reading comprehension. Giant sticky note charts are used to identity students that need guided instruction on a certain skill or strategy.

Writing reminders

Writing Reminders at Home

Maybe you need to remember to thaw the chicken, or you have a dentist appointment around the corner. The Post-it Note is a hero for those simple things we don't want to forget about in our personal lives.

Sticky notes on desk

Advertising a Business

Colleges, insurance companies, realtors, and more can print their logo or company name on sticky notes. These work great as advertising giveaways or as little gifts for your clients.

Note on calendar https://www.boredpanda.com/

Spreading Joy

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a woman wrote funny messages on Post-its and stuck them throughout Walmart. This was a clever, easy way to make people smile during a difficult time.

Marked page in book

Marking Your Page in a Book

Follow in Arthur Fry's footsteps and use a Post-it to mark your page while reading. It's way better for the book than dog earring the corner!

Notes on screen

Motivating Yourself or Your Loved Ones

If you're feeling down, try writing notes of self-love or inspirational messages on Post-its. You can then stick these to their mirror and remind yourself every day of how awesome you are!

Labeled power plugs https://simplyspaced.com/

Labeling Cords or Folders

Why buy a fancy labeling machine? You can simply use a Post-it to label your random cords, or the folders that you want to keep organized.

Wall with different color post-its http://www.nydailynews.com/

Creating Works of Art

Artists use sticky notes to create beautiful works of art, or as a way to provide commentary on an important topic. The wall pictured here was set up by Matthew “Levee” Chavez, a 28-year-old artist living in New York City. People in the city wrote their feelings about the 2016 election and stuck them to the wall.

T-shirts https://www.post-it.com/

Feeding the Hungry

Customers at Rosa's Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia can write their purchase on a Post-it Note and stick it around town. This paper can later be redeemed by a homeless person for a free slice of pizza. More than 70,000 slices have been handed out since the idea was born.

Why Was the Post It Note So Successful?

computer with sticky note attached

The Post-it Note is a huge success story thanks to a combination of hard work and smart marketing. Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry worked relentlessly on perfecting the adhesive, and 3M did everything they could to market the Post-it. The end result was an office supply that we couldn't imagine living without.

It's even got to the point where we'll refer to any sticky note as a Post-it, even though there are knockoff versions on the market. You really know your brand has catapulted to stardom when it becomes a generic term in our language!

computer with sticky note attached

What is the Future of Sticky Notes?

computer with sticky note attached https://www.microsoft.com/

People still use regular old Post-it Notes, but there are also many apps that allow you to create them on your laptop, phone, or tablet. This has made the sticky note more accessible in the digital age.

Take for instance Sticky Notes 8, which was created by Microsoft. You can easily write notes and move them freely across your screen. It's a lot better than making an entire Excel for something simple!

3M has also collaborated with Evernote to design a special app where people can upload photos of their physical Post-it Notes and extract the handwriting to create digital files. Whether you jot down notes on a paper or create a memo on your desktop, you'll always rely on the Post-it to stay on task!

computer with sticky note attached https://www.microsoft.com/

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

More than 50 billion Post-it Notes are produced by 3M every year.

Stats 2 icon

The global market for sticky notes will reach over $200 million by 2025.

Stats 3 icon

The average professional receives about 11 messages per day on a Post-it Note.

The Bottom Line

Post-its can boost productivity and even create social change. Whether you need to remember a meeting at work, can't forget that weekend doctor appointment, or want to create the next great work of art, they'll always stick by your side!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

Peck, E. (2015, May 29). Why You Still Need Post-it Notes. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sticky-study-proves-power-of-post-it_n_7470254

Acker. D. (2017, January 24). Post-It Maker 3M's Quarterly Profit Beats on Controlled Costs. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/24/post-it-notes-maker-3ms-quarterly-profit-rises.html

The Curriculum Review. (2018, February 1). Sticky Notes as Reading Comprehension Aids in the Classroom. PaperClip Holdings.

Hogan, K. (2015, May 26). The Surprising Persuasiveness of a Sticky Note. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review.

American Marketing Association. (1984, August 31). Post-it Notes Click Thanks to Entrepreneurial Spirit. Chicago, IL: Marketing News.

Manufacturing Engineer. (2004, October 1). 1978 – Post-it Notes – 3M.

3M. (2018). 3M History. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/about-3m/history/

Lukas, P. (2003, April 1). 3M A Mining Company Built on a Mistake. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_archive/2003/04/01/341016/

Post-It. (2013, April 4). History Timeline: Post-it Notes. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/contact-us/about-us/

Mode, M. (2015, April 6). The Post-it Note as Introduced 35 Years Ago Today. Was it Really Invented by Mistake? Retrieved July 24, 2018, from http://www.magicmode.com/the-post-it-note-introduced-35-years-ago-today-was-it-really-invented-by-mistake/

Block, B. (2018). Life-Cycle Studies: Post-it Notes. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6387

Glass, N., Hume, T. (2013, April 4). The 'Hallelujah Moment' Behind the Invention of the Post-it Note. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/tech/post-it-note-history/index.html

Soon, A. (2013, March 22). Dr. Geoff Nicholson, the "Father of Post-it Notes," on 3M & Innovation. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.hardwarezone.com.sg/feature-dr-geoff-nicholson-father-post-it-notes-3m-innovation

Smith, I. (2016, August 11). The Post-it Note Was Invented By Accident. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/08/11/post-note-invented/

Maddeaux, S. (2017, August 31). Back to School: Why the Post-it Note is One of Humanity's Greatest Inventions. Retrieved July 25, 2018, from https://nationalpost.com/entertainment/back-to-school-why-the-post-it-note-is-one-of-humanitys-greatest-inventions

Rivoli, D. (2016, December 16). Historical Society to Preserve Post-it Notes Left in Union Square Subway After Presidential Election. Retrieved July 25, 2018, from https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/post-it-notes-left-union-square-election-preserved-article-1.2913344

Ali, M. (2016, August 20). Sticky Notes Turn Into 70,000 Pizza Slices for the Homeless. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/humankind/2016/08/20/sticky-notes-turn-into-70000-pizza-slices-homeless/88953502/

LP Information. (2020, September 8). Post-It & Sticky Notes Market to Witness Robust Expansion By 2025. Retrieved from, https://www.openpr.com/news/2129666/post-it-sticky-notes-market-to-witness-robust-expansion-by-2025