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“Culture is not only passed on orally or by instinctive imitation, but above all through reading and study, hence also through the assistance of such a small object as a bookmark”*…

Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-it Note, found inspiration in the pages of his hymnal

Siena Linton explains how a failed invention and a choir hymnbook led to one of the most iconic office staples of the 20th century…

The year is 1968, and in a laboratory in the midwestern state of Minnesota, US, Dr Spencer Silver is hard at work, attempting to develop an extra-strong adhesive for 3M, then called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

Instead of the super-sticky substance he had hoped to create, Silver was left with a ‘low-tack’ adhesive, albeit a reusable one which could be stuck and unstuck when pressure was applied.

Keen not to let his time and efforts go to waste, Dr Silver searched far and wide for a use for what he called his “solution without a problem”.

For five years, he brought his invention to the table at various seminars and summits, but ultimately failed to make his idea stick.

Little did Silver know, one of his colleagues at 3M had attended one of these many seminars, and was interested to find out more about the oddly-behaving adhesive. Arthur ‘Art’ Fry, who worked to develop new products at 3M, was a keen singer, and sang in his church choir in his downtime.

Fry often used small slips of paper to mark important pages in his hymnbook, but with nothing to keep them in place they frequently fell out, causing Fry to lose his place and costing him precious time.

One Sunday in 1973, during choir practice, he remembered Dr Silver’s seminar. He wondered if he could somehow coat his bookmarks with the adhesive in a way that could help save his page more effectively, without damaging the delicate, wafer-thin pages of his hymnbook.

In the spirit of encouraging creative collaboration and inventiveness, 3M operate a “permitted bootlegging” initiative, which Fry made use of to further develop his design.

Using scrap paper borrowed from the lab next door – which just so happened to be canary yellow – Fry experimented with different ways of applying the adhesive to the paper, eventually settling on a strip of glue along one edge of the paper: enough to allow it to stick, without any tackiness left on the part of the bookmark that extended from the page.

Silver and Fry later began leaving each other notes, stuck to various surfaces around the office. It was then that they realised the full potential of their discovery…

The rest of the extraordinary story at “The surprising role classical music played in the invention of the Post-it Note,” from @sienalinton at @ClassicFM, via @tedgioia.

Marco Ferreri

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As we mark our progress, we might recall that it is on this date in 1948 that Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” was published in The New Yorker. In her tale, each year (on June 27– so just as the issue was landing) the the roughly 300 residents of a small village participate in a drawing that determines who will be sacrificed to insure a good harvest…

The story evoked strong initial negative response: subscriptions were cancelled; much hate mail received throughout the summer; and the Union of South Africa banned the story.  It is now considered a classic of short fiction (and among the most famous American short stories); it spawned several radio, television, and film adaptations, and inspired voluminous analysis, both literary and sociological.

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