Post it

Everything changed when a director himself visited the consumers

Art Fry (Owatenna, Minnesota, August 19, 1931)

Art Fry was a Presbyterian, which meant that he sang a number of psalms every Sunday at his church.

For nearly twenty years he had attended the North Presbyterian Church in Saint-Paul, a town east of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and for nearly twenty years he had been annoyed by the disappearance of the bookmarks from his hymnal.

When you stood up to sing, they fell out, leaving Fry desperate to find the right psalm.

“I can't remember whether it was a boring sermon or divine inspiration,” he said afterwards, “but that Sunday in 1974 my mind wandered and suddenly I was reminded of an adhesive that had been discovered years earlier in our laboratory and was nowhere to be found. could be used for.' That moment became the seed for the development of the yellow notes, which were distributed in offices and living rooms all over the world in just a few years.

Its success has become a contemporary legend.

The adhesive Fry was thinking of had been developed five years earlier by chemist Spencer Silver in 3M's Saint-Paul laboratories. This was done as part of a four-year project that investigated the possibilities of polymers as adhesives.

One day, Silver haphazardly threw a lot of monomers into the reaction mixture, resulting in a very weak tack. A failure, actually, in an environment where it was only about products with a high adhesive strength.

It was an extremely weak adhesive that could only hold something very light.

What could it be used for? Nobody knew. For five years, from 1968 to 1973, Silver peddled it among colleagues, until by chance he ended up in the same department as Fry. Just as the weird glue was about to fade into oblivion, Fry had a hunch at church.

It was fortunate for Art Fry that the scientists at 3M—which stands for Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Corporation—are allowed to spend up to 15 percent of their working hours on projects of their choice, an activity that the company refers to as "bootlegging." : undeclared work – known.

Although he had twenty years of experience as a chemist and specialist in product development, it would still take a year and a half before Fry could make his dead simple idea tangible.

If you wanted to stick a piece of paper with the special glue on something, it was never certain afterwards where the glue got stuck, on the surface or on the piece of paper.

Two chemists worked for months on an extensive coating process for the yellow sheets. Furthermore, the adhesive part should not be thicker than the rest, otherwise you cannot make useful blocks from it. Another problem arose in production.

To apply glue selectively to one side of the paper and produce sheets instead of rolls, 3M engineers had to invent at least two completely unique machines. An avid enthusiast of small aircraft, Fry offered suggestions.

After a run-in with the technicians, he assembled a test machine in his basement and modified it until he had resolved the issue. Then it turned out that the construction could not pass through the door of the cellar. Fry punched a hole in the wall of his basement and delivered his machine after this intervention.

To this day, the presses used to 'print' the post-it notes are strictly secret. They are located in a separate hall, where the management does not allow visitors and hardly any 3M employees.

Sell pots and pans

Convincing the company's management of the post-it's chances of success proved to be the most difficult task of the entire company. Who would be willing to write on expensive notebooks when cheap paper could be used? Art Fry could be very convincing.

He was born in a provincial town in the state of Minnesota and as a child wanted to follow the same path as his father and uncle, namely that of a chemical engineer.

While attending the University of Minnesota, his father would send him out into the streets in the summer to peddle pots and pans and earn part of his college tuition.

Fry: "That's how you gain experience, my father said, because as a chemical engineer you will have to sell your ideas to people who are above you." In 1977 this became all too clear.

It was not without difficulty that Fry found support from the new product development departments at 3M, and management reluctantly followed suit. With the official approval and substantial budgetary resources, the technical details for the production of a mass product could be worked out.

Meanwhile, the marketing department was exploring the market. By the end of 1978, the project seemed doomed. Advertisements and advertising campaigns turned out to be ineffective. Nobody was interested.

Further investigation revealed that agents who had distributed samples of the product in their test cities had only achieved minor successes.

To make sure of the failure, Joe Ramey, then vice president of the Office Supplies Department, and his technical director Geoff Nicholson took to the streets of the Virginia city of Richmond, one of the earlier test cities, themselves. 'An act of desperation,' said one later. "I thought: this is peddling with a dead bird," said the other.

They entered banks and offices here and there to hand out the yellow papers and, lo and behold, it caught on. It exploded. In 1979 they first edited a few other states, each time with an astonishing result.

Since then, all management books have taught board members: 'Seek out your customer yourself!'

By 1980, Fry's invention was a complete success in the United States.

After Hurricane Hugo swept across the country in 1989, 3M received a letter from South Carolina saying, "Hugo felled eight oaks in my yard, but the yellow paper stuck to my front door."

In 1981, Western Europe was effortlessly conquered.

As far as the Netherlands is concerned: in the Dikke Van Dale today, under the keyword 'yellow', the seventh meaning is: 'self-adhesive memo sheet'. 3M, which manufactures more than 60,000 products worldwide, had to admit that the company had never brought a new product to the public with such speed in its long history.

Art Fry: 'No inventor can come closer to immortality.' He is now retired but still lectures business people about the creative climate in his firm: 'You don't have to be a genius to make an important invention.

You have to be a go-getter, not be discouraged by setbacks and obstacles. If you don't have setbacks, your idea is worth nothing.' And Spencer Silver?

The inventor of the crazy glue is content that he hardly appears in the post-it legend and that all the fuss has passed him by.
(See also: adhesive tape)