Contribution of a woman to Post Its? Or not?
May 15, 2021 5:53 AM   Subscribe

This is just for my own sanity. The maker of Post It Note adhesive recently died. In ALL the obituary links I cannot find the story I KNOW I read as a kid in the 80's: that he was trying to make super glue and the glue he had just created was disappointing. His wife found the repositionable glue useful as what we know as sticky notes, and the Post It was born. But now. No mention of this. Does anyone else remember this story? I can't tell if it was a "Try to give women credit" thing or was made up and is now abandoned.
posted by tiny frying pan to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read the history section on the Wikipedia page?

It parallels your story of Silver trying to make a super adhesive, but it's Art Fry who they say had the idea to use the adhesive for removable bookmarks.

There's also a bit about a guy named Alan Amron who claims to have developed the idea and pitched it to 3M.

Apologies if you already read all that, but it's pretty well referenced and a good place to start further research. Certainly there is room in there for a woman's input to have been overlooked!
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:10 AM on May 15, 2021

Response by poster: Yes, I did...but with all the stories out now it's hard to say how Wiki might have changed. I think what I read was a part of a kid's book touting female inventors, so it could have been embellished or a "just so" story to promote women but it bothers me if this was part of the truth originally and now it is lost. Curious if anyone else remembers hearing this or saw it anywhere.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:14 AM on May 15, 2021

Could your unconscious mind be thinking of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion? (One character claims to have to have invented post-it notes.)

A woman invented white out- maybe you're crossing your "inventors of office supplies" origin stories?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:20 AM on May 15, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I remembered it was "the secretaries in his office" that suggested they would use it for notes, not his wife.
posted by soelo at 6:25 AM on May 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Snopes has the bit about secretaries (in addition to, but not instead of, the story about Fry's choirbook told by Silver's wife herself).

I was originally thinking of commenting that the story you describe sounds familiar to me, which it does. But it's just as possible that the thing that seems familiar to me was actually about a different invention altogether - it's easy to merge these stories together in the mind. So maybe this was an actual false narrative put out at some point; or maybe it's the product of mixed memories. Maybe we could try to identify the book you read and pin things down that way!
posted by trig at 6:34 AM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

There is also the Band-Aid origin story, which has a J&J employee inventing them for his wife, who was prone to minor kitchen injuries, but I echo Larry David Syndrome in guessing a conflation of Liquid Paper and Romy and Michelle.
posted by wreckingball at 6:40 AM on May 15, 2021

Best answer: (For what it's worth, I had the same response when I saw the Post-it obits!)
posted by wreckingball at 6:42 AM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In an effort to dig up the story that tiny frying pan references, I tried Googling kids' books on women inventors but soon realized that I could be happily poking around all day without answering the question at hand.

I did find this Interesting Engineering listicle, which introduced me to -- for example -- Jeanne Villepreux-Power (born 1794), inventor of the aquarium, and Patricia Bath (born 1942), a Black ophthalmologist who invented the Laserphaco Probe for removing cataracts with a laser beam.

Thanks, tiny frying pan, for inspiring me to expand my base of knowledge!
posted by virago at 7:02 AM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: (I have no idea who Romy and Michelle are, that's definitely not it - memory is specific to it being post its and not another invention because of the detail of trying to make good adhesive and failing and his wife using the paper it was on to use as post its.)
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:05 AM on May 15, 2021

When it comes to wikipedia, it is often useful to view the article as it existed before whatever breaking news spurred editorial attention to the article. In this case, the Art Fry hymn-book story was already present in December 2020, for whatever that's worth.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 7:13 AM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a colleague whose father worked at 3M, and he once said that according to his dad, executives were skeptical about whether there would be a demand for post-its until Art Fry had some prototypes made and gave them to the secretarial staff; after the prototypes ran out, the secretaries requested more, which helped persuade management that the product could be commercially viable.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:01 AM on May 15, 2021 [15 favorites]

This is the variant I’ve heard as well, with the addition that “call for more post-its” was at the end of each pad with some boss’s number. No mention of the wife that I recall.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:05 AM on May 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

You can search on Google for things before a particular date. I tried looking for “post-it note history” from 2005 and earlier and couldn’t find anything about his wife. e.g.:

* Lemelson-MIT: ART FRY & SPENCER SILVER (2001)

* Timetoast: The History of Post-It Notes (2003)

* LA Times: ‘Post-Its’ Beat the Odds : Glue’s Failure Backs 3M’s Biggest Success (1985)

Or there’s the very first version of the Post-it Wikipedia page from 2004. That lists a few references including:

* 3M’s Post-it history here and here on the Wayback Machine (2003)

* BBC News: Sticking around - the Post-it note is 20 (2000)
posted by fabius at 6:06 AM on May 16, 2021

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