The History of Sticky Notes: When Were They Invented and Why?

Want to remember to pick up the  dry cleaning  ? A visual brainstorming tool for your next meeting? To leave a sweet love note for your darling on the bathroom mirror? Probably your preferred medium for these tasks is the humble yellow Post-it note. Since the 1980s, tiny squares of paper have become as much standard office supplies as staplers and paper clips, but the world has come very close to losing the Post-it phenomenon.

holy notes

In 1968, chemist Spencer Silver was working for Minnesota-based manufacturing empire 3M to create a super-strong adhesive for  aircraft construction  and maintenance   . By experimenting with copolymer microbeads, Silver created a  lightweight yet effective adhesive  that could be easily removed without causing damage and remained tacky enough to be reused over and over again. As unique as this sticker is, it wasn’t the “Eureka!” moment Silver had been waiting for. In fact, for his co-workers and supervisors, it was a failure. After all, it was especially unsuitable for aircraft repairs.

But Silver thought his invention of the adhesive was pretty cool, so for several years, he talked about his creation to his colleagues at 3M. He was sure that, with the right application, his removable and reusable sticker could be a game changer. Like a sign from heaven, his colleague Art Fry presented a challenge to Silver’s creation in 1974, when he had trouble keeping his makeshift markers between the pages of his church hymnal. He remembered Silver bragging that his sticker could stick to paper and be removed without tearing, so he asked Silver to make some notes that he could put on it. Some sticky notes, if you like. Fry and the other members of his church choir were delighted with the result.


Luckily, around the same time, new management took over at 3M, and Silver convinced New Products Lab manager Geoff Nicholson to help develop his brainchild. There was no value in sticky bookmarks, so Nicholson’s team designed a prototype for a new type of   office  bulletin board. who used sticky notes instead of thumbtacks, but the idea fizzled out in focus groups. People didn’t want to buy a special bulletin board when they already had one, but Nicholson’s team realized that they themselves had stumbled upon Post-it’s real advantage without even realizing it. The little pieces of paper were perfect for jotting down a quick reminder or message and they stuck to most surfaces, so they started leaving messages for themselves and each other all over the office.

It took 3M until 1977 to officially launch the new product, now under its famous brand name, in test markets in four US cities – where they utterly failed. The idea was shelved again until 1980, when the marketing team created an extensive campaign to promote the product to business-oriented yuppie professionals as a new, modern office supply. Finally, 12 years after Silver accidentally developed his sticker, Post-it notes became an overnight success. Today, 3M manufactures more than  50 billion  Post-it notes every year. The little yellow squares – which were just  that color because yellow paper was all that was available from the lab next door and now it comes in many colors and shapes – it has become a staple of a world without staples.