Thursday, October 09, 2008

3M & the Post-it note

3M was founded to sell the mineral corundum which is used to make sand paper and grinding wheels. After selling only one load, on June 13, 1902 Henry S. Bryan, Herman W. Cable, John Dwan, William A, McGonagle,Tahir Farhad, and Dr. J. Danley Budd went to the Two Harbors office of company secretary John Dwan, and signed papers making Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing a corporation. In reality, however, Dwan and his associates were not selling what they thought; they were in fact selling the worthless mineral anorthosite.

Failing to make sandpaper with the anorthosite, the founders decided to import minerals like Spanish garnet. In 1914, customers complained that the garnet was falling off the paper. The founders discovered that the stones had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean packed with olive oil, and the oil had penetrated the stones. Unable to take the loss of selling expensive inventory, they simply roasted the stones over a fire to remove the olive oil.

This was the first instance of R&D at 3M. In 1916 William L. McKnight applied the same scientific methods to production that he had used to get the oil out of the garnet, and bought the company's first lab for $500. From then on, 3M would be guided by science, with up to 25% of sales each year from new products. The company's early innovations include waterproof sandpaper (1921) and masking tape (1925), as well as cellophane "Scotch Tape" (in the 1930s). In 1952 the original formula for Scotchgard was discovered accidentally by 3M chemists Patsy Sherman and Samuel Smith. Sales began in 1956, and in 1973 the two chemists received a patent for the formula.

In 1977 the company introduced Post-it notes. In 1974 Art Fry, a new product development researcher for 3M who was also in a church choir was frustrated that his bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal. He had attended a seminar by Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, who developed a "low-tack", reusable pressure sensitive adhesive. While Fry "listening" to a sermon in church, he came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmarks.

The next day, Fry requested a sample of the adhesive. He began experimenting, coating only one edge of the paper so that the portion extending from a book would not be sticky. Fry used some of his experiments to write notes to his boss. This use led him to broaden his original idea into the concept that became the Post-it note. Initially Post-it notes failed as consumers had not tried the product. A year later 3M issued free samples to residents of Boise, Idaho, United States. 90% of people who tried them said that they would buy the product so it was relaunched.

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