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Spencer Silver (1941–2021), co-inventor of Post-it Notes

by Linnea Crowther

Spencer Silver was a chemist who invented the adhesive used in Post-it Notes.

Creating an iconic product

Silver worked at 3M for 30 years, from 1966 until his retirement in 1996, but it was early in his career there that he developed his most memorable invention. In 1968, Silver was working to create a powerful adhesive to be used in building airplanes. What he came up with wasn’t strong enough for that – but it had interesting properties. It stuck well to surfaces but could easily be peeled off and repositioned. 3M patented the adhesive and marketed it as a spray, but it wasn’t until several years later that Silver’s adhesive found its true purpose.

3M chemical engineer Art Fry learned of Silver’s adhesive in 1974, and he immediately had an idea for its use. He thought it could be ideal for securing bookmarks to his hymnal while he sang at church. He used Silver’s adhesive to develop the first Post-it Notes, which 3M began marketing nationwide in 1980. The product quickly took off and became ubiquitous in offices, schools, and homes.

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In his years at 3M, Silver was a part of more than 20 patented products. His adhesive found other uses in addition to Post-it Notes, including medical bandages and interior decorating. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010 and was honored with the American Chemical Society’s 1988 Award for Creative Invention.

Notable quote

“As part of an experiment, I added more than the recommended amount of the chemical reactant that causes the molecules to polymerise. The result was quite astonishing. Instead of dissolving, the small particles that were produced dispersed in solvents. That was really novel and I began experimenting further. Eventually, I developed an adhesive that had high ‘tack’ but low ‘peel’ and was reusable.” —from a 2010 interview for Financial Times

Tributes to Spencer Silver

Full obituary: The New York Times

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