As told by Dr. Lester Krogh, CHME '45, M.S. '48
Post-it notes is a fascinating story, because it’s a story about an adhesive that wasn’t supposed to be made. The objective was to make a very strong pressure-sensitive adhesive. And here’s one that wouldn’t tear paper when you took it off. What do you do with it?
The first thing we did was patterns … women were still cutting out their own dresses and sewing their own clothes then. This was in the early ‘70s and with that we decided we’d coat patterns. You could lay it on there and it would stick well enough that you could cut out the pattern and just pull it off and use it again.
I thought we really had a barnburner. It didn't go anywhere. We had been struck by a phenomena that I call the Walmart/Target syndrome. All of a sudden you could go buy a dress all sewn up for you for cheaper than the cloth to make it. And therefore that market just disappeared, from this country at least. So we kept looking.
Ben Silver, who had made the adhesive, came into my office once a year for about two or three years. And since I had been around all of the divisions from my previous jobs, I gave him a list of divisions and said, ‘Try this one, try this one.’ And finally the Commercial Tape division decided they wanted to stick with it. They worked very hard to make a product with it. Art Fry, who was over there, and others finally made it a post-it note; it was adhesive on one edge of a piece of paper and a little pad you could take a piece off.
One of the first things they did with them was to label ovens. If you were using the ovens for a few hours, you'd put the temperature and how long it was going to be, and you’d do that with a post-it note instead of some other means.
And finally, people over in the marketing department of the Commercial Tape division saw these pads and decided to grab a few of them to see what they could do with them, and soon they kept asking the lab for more. Finally the technical director said, ‘I’m going to charge ‘em.’ They finally woke up to the point they were paying for these things, and maybe if we were paying for these, somebody else would, too.
The market test began in four medium-sized cities. They didn’t succeed in selling any. The technical director turned to the general manager and said, ‘What do we do now?’ We know people will use it, because everybody around the company was using them. He said, ‘Well, let’s give some away in one city.’ So they did. They left samples all over the city. Then about two or three months later, they ran the same test in that city and one of the others where it did not succeed. The city where it did not succeed, it did not succeed again. But in the one where they left the samples, they just took orders.
It’s a very interesting story in persistence and the fact that it was a very difficult thing to make.