On nearly every back-to-school shopping list are the necessities we often take for granted.
In honor of summer winding down and school being back in session, we did our homework on patented inventors whose creations enrich our learning and work environments each day.
Richard Gurley Drew — Adhesive Tape
While working as a lab technician for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Richard Gurley Drew often made deliveries and tested product samples at auto body shops. He soon noticed a common issue facing body shop workers: difficulty in masking car parts for paint detailing. Paint would peel off when the tape was removed, leaving customers and workers frustrated.
Inspired to solve this problem, Drew went back to 3M and began working on a new tape alternative. In 1925, he devised a tape made of cabinetmaker’s glue and treated crepe paper that took the world by storm. Known as Scotch® tape, the paper-backed, pressure-sensitive tape allowed for a gentler adhesive that protected against paint stains.
Drew’s second breakthrough — transparent cellophane Scotch tape — arrived five years later. During the difficult years of the Great Depression, this new tape became a popular asset for families looking to repurpose or salvage items, rather than buy new ones. Countless books, toys and household appliances were preserved thanks to Drew’s groundbreaking invention.
Spencer Silver and Art Fry — Post-it® Notes
Ask any educator and they will surely tell you that one of the keys to organization is the use of Post-it® Notes. The vivid colors, convenient size and ease of transfer from surface to surface also make Post-it Notes a favorite among students.
Though a seemingly simple piece of paper with an adhesive back, the history of these sticky notes is anything but ordinary. In 1968, NIHF Inductee Spencer Silver was working at 3M as a senior scientist developing a new class of adhesives when he discovered an acrylic adhesive with unique properties. This pressure-sensitive substance was formed of small spheres that were strong enough to stick to surfaces without leaving residue and could be used repeatedly.
A few years later, fellow 3M researcher and NIHF Inductee Arthur Fry learned of Silver’s adhesive microsphere discovery and made an immediate connection to how this scientific development might be used further. As a member of his church choir, Fry had grown increasingly bothered by the paper bookmarks used in his hymnal that would often slip out of place. Fry realized that Silver’s adhesive could provide a solution by temporarily anchoring his bookmarks in place. At 3M, Fry decided to coat paper with the new adhesive to make repositionable notes, and thus the Post-it Note was created.
Following years of design and production challenges, including the creation of new equipment to manufacture the notes, Post-it Notes were introduced across the United States in 1980.
Laszlo Biro — Ballpoint Pen
The everyday use of pens is so common that it’s easy to take for granted their original conception. Still, the invention and development of pens for commercial use has left a lasting impact.
In the 1930s, Hungarian journalist and NIHF Inductee Laszlo Biro noticed a contrast between two types of ink. The ink from fountain pens smudged easily because it needed time to dry, while newspaper printing ink dried much faster. After attempting to use newspaper ink in a fountain pen, Biro realized that it was too thick to flow through the basin, so he devised a more efficient point.
By fitting the end of a pen with a freely rotating metal ball socket, ink from an attached reservoir could be picked up and distributed across the page as words were written. The ballpoint pen therefore became a successful combination of good-quality ink and resourceful design. It even went on to become an integral writing instrument during World War II among pilots in the British Royal Air Force who needed pens that would not leak at higher altitudes.
These visionary inventors are just four of the creative minds behind the items we use daily. Visit our Inductee database to learn more about the innovators who have shaped our world.