Promo University

History of Sticky Notes

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

How can we possibly remember everything we need to do during the day? That's the magic behind sticky notes! They are faithful friends, giving us a nudge about groceries we want to get, tasks we need to do at the office, and homework we can't forget about.

Who invented Post-it® Notes? Why are they yellow? Stick right here as we explore the interesting history of sticky notes!


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 Sticky Notes Timeline

Sticky notes haven't changed much since they first emerged. Although technology is more advanced than ever, we still rely on this simple supply when it comes to daily reminders.

  • 1968

    Dr. Spencer Silver Source:

    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:

    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:

    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:

    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:

    Post-its® got into the business of promotional products. 3M's marketing manager at the time, Graydon E. Thompson, believed companies would benefit from the additional brand exposure.

  • 1997

    Post-it Flag Highlighters Source:

    Post-it® Flag Highlighters have received high praise from students since their invention. Not only do they keep track of important information, but they're also good for scribbling quick notes.

  • Mid-2000s

    Digital sticky notes Source:

    Tablets and cell phones have special apps where you can make 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:

    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:

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

Who Invented Sticky Notes?

Located in St. Paul Minnesota, 3M is one of the biggest companies in the United States. They are well-known for being the manufacturer of Post-it® Notes, however, they're definitely not a one-trick pony! The company's other brands, like Scotch and Nexcare, are just as famous and continue to fly off shelves around the world.

3M's success didn't come overnight. The company started out with a focus on mining, specifically for corundum which is a mineral for making sandpaper. When they came up short, they shifted their attention to other materials and found applications for those instead. Now 3M is a global conglomerate with an estimated net worth of $5 billion and a reoccurring spot on the Fortune 500 list.

3M building
Did you know?

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

The Men Behind Post-It Notes

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver discovered microspheres while working as a senior scientist at 3M's corporate research facility. These tiny spheres formed an adhesive that did not dissolve or melt down. As a result, they were very sticky and strong enough to coat onto tape backings. They also wouldn't damage various surfaces after they were removed.

Spencer Silver

Silver had a rough time getting taken seriously in the scientific community. No one quite knew what to do with his discovery. That is until Arthur Fry, another scientist at 3M, came to the rescue in 1974. Fry was looking for a way to mark his hymn book for Wednesday night choir practices at North Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The sticky paper made for perfect makeshift bookmarks as it was easy to remove and wouldn't damage the pages of his hymn book.

Fry shared the idea with his co-workers, family, and friends. Some people loved the paper, others hated it, but either way, at the end of the year about 20 pads of sticky notes were being used per person. In the end, neither Fry nor Silver received any royalties for their invention. Still, the world doesn't deny their contribution to the world of office organization.

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 onto the paper.

Sticking To The Plan

A few executives at 3M realized Silver and Fry were on to something that could mean big business for the company. The most crucial person in this regard was Dr. Geoff Richardson who allowed his employees to dedicate 15% of their working hours on personal projects. Silver and Fry used that time to really hone in on combining the sticky microspheres with the paper they had on hand, canary yellow scrap sheets.

With new guidance, 3M started marketed the microspheres under the name "Press ‘n Peel." The product was sold in four cities in 1977, but the initial launch was unfortunately met with mixed results across the board. If they wanted the Press ‘n Peel to be successful, 3M had to spice up their strategy, and maybe come up with a better name. In a marketing effort that came to be known as "Boise Blitz," they started providing free samples to focus groups in Boise, Idaho. The response was overwhelmingly positive, which inspired 3M to continue sampling in eleven other states. These efforts paid off in the long run as about 90% of consumers at the time were interested in 3M's new product.

From there, the sky was the limit for the potential of Post-it® Notes. Within a year, 3M's product was sold nationally across the United States, earning more than $2 million in sales. By 2000, the product was available in 27 sizes, 57 colors, and 20 fragrances. 3M also made strides in being more eco-friendly by using a 67% plant-based adhesive. All of these changes ultimately led to the Post-it's® success, and even today, the brand continues to stick around with new products and designs.

The Boise Blitz Campaign

Press and Peel was reintroduced in 1890 as Post-It Notes. 3M handed out tons of Post-It Notes in Boise, Idaho as part of their marketing campaign.

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

The Rise of Promotional Sticky Notes

Post-it® Notes were quickly becoming the little sticky paper that could. As the product was now gaining attention, 3M's marketing manager in the mid-80s, Graydon E. Thompson, started exploring ways to bring them into the world of advertising giveaways. He believed companies would want to give away branded sticky notes at trade shows and other promotional events.

newspaper clipping Source: Marketing News

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

Unfortunately, there were a few hiccups in Post-it's® evolution as a promotional product. For starters, the market demanded a minimum order of 50 pads with only two weeks turnaround time. According to a 1984 article in Marketing News (a publication for the American Marketing Association), distribution was still relatively new on sticky notes, which meant 3M wasn't quite ready to meet that demand. Once sticky notes started being mass-produced in larger quantities, however, they easily made the transition as branded company giveaways. It's difficult to imagine corporate events, meetings, and trade shows without sticky notes decorating the tables. They have become one of the most popular promotional products of all time.


Banks might use them 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

How are Sticky Notes Used?

The world of organization wouldn't be the same without sticky notes. While they are amazing as promotional giveaways for businesses, they are also great for a variety of other purposes.

Sticky Notes Source:

Sticky Notes in the Office
In many ways, 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.

Writing memos on sticky notes is a proven way to be more productive at work. Due to this fact, Microsoft has taken strides in making sticky notes more office-friendly. Through Sticky Notes 8, you can easily write notes and move them freely across the home screen. It's a lot better than making an entire Excel for something simple, especially when you look at your computer screen every day.

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. The classic design of a sticky note is so universal, it's not likely to change any time soon. Jot down notes on a paper sticky note pad or create a memo on your desktop. Either way, you'll always rely on this handy tool to stay on task at work.

Learn more about Evernote's partnership with Post-it®!

Sticky Notes in the Classroom

Sticky Notes Source:

Kids often end up using the same items as their parents. Back in the day, the working-class would bring metal tobacco tins to school as early lunch boxes. Fast forward a few years later and customized options were available on the marketplace. The same phenomenon happened with sticky notes. Post-it® even went as far as to create a line specifically for kids, complete with sketch pads and portable easels.

Sticky Notes Source:
Sticky Notes Source:

The appeal of sticky notes hasn't been lost on teachers. One of the highest ranking schools in New York, Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, relies on sticky notes to increase reading comprehension. Sixth grade teacher Margaret DeSimone pulls guided lessons from a giant sticky note chart, and the students who write incorrectly on the notes are pulled for guided instruction on a certain skill or strategy. This has been a successful way to target individual student's needs and help them better understand the content.

Sticky Notes Source:

Of course, Post-it® Notes aren't limited to the elementary and high school kids. College wouldn't be the same without sticky notes to keep track of study sessions, deadlines, and future tests. Even more, a student can show collegiate pride with branded sticky notes like this memo cube for the University of Notre Dame. No matter how they're used, sticky notes are just as essential as backpacks and pencils when it comes to education.

Sticky Notes as Art Pieces

While sticky notes are essential in the workplace and classroom, they are also a good way to express creativity. Many individuals have found ways to turn Post-it® Notes into works of art. For instance, Rebecca Murtaugh, a California artist, used $1,000 worth of sticky notes to create an installation that covered her whole bedroom in 2001. Fifteen years later, Ingrid Verneer started an international Instagram challenge inspired by her 365 Days of Post-it People project. Post-it® Notes even made it onto the runway, becoming a major part of London Fashion Week in 2017. People have been finding creative ways to express themselves using sticky notes for years.

Sticky Notes Source:

Perhaps the most notable art exhibition came in 2016. Matthew "Levee" Chavez, a 28-year-old artist from New York City, set up a project called Subway Therapy. The idea was for New Yorkers to express their post-election feelings on Post-It® Notes and stick them on the subway walls of Union Square. Even the governor got in on the action, scribbling down the famous poem found on the Statue of Liberty's tablet. By the end, over 5,000 sticky notes decorated the walls.

Sticky Notes Source:

The New York Historical Society preserved this exhibition as it captured a moment in time. It showed just how powerful our thoughts and feelings are when documented. The Post-it® was, and always will be, a humble tool for that self-expression with its power to build communities and lift people's spirits.

Sticky Notes Source:

The Future of Sticky Notes

The digital age hasn't made Post-it® Notes obsolete. There are many apps that allow you to create sticky notes right on your desktop, phone, or tablet. Plus, there's something to be said about the value of putting pen to paper. Writing things down helps us remember important information. The Post-it® brand is available in more than 150 countries, and there are over 4,000 products, including the Post-it® Extreme Notes released in 2018. It doesn't look like we'll ever do away with this simple, yet useful office essential.

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

3M's quarterly profit increased by 11.3% in 2017.

Stats 2 icon

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

Stats 3 icon

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

The Bottom Line

Writing things down is a powerful medium that 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, Post-it® Notes will 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.


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