As It Happens

Inventor of Post-it Note adhesive made something people didn't know they needed, says wife

Spencer Silver, the inventor of the adhesive used on one of 3M's best-known products, the Post-it Note, died May 8. He was 80.

Spencer Silver, 80, died May 8 at his home in St. Paul, Minn.

Spencer Silver, the inventor of the adhesive used on one of 3M's best-known products, the Post-it Note, died at his home in Minnesota on Tuesday, May 8. (3M via AP)

Story Transcript

When Linda Silver and her husband Spencer first started seeing Post-it Notes on television, they'd give each other a little nudge. But as time went on, the couple got used to seeing them everywhere. 

"They're so ubiquitous. I mean, they are literally almost in every shot that you see of somebody in an office," she told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Spencer Silver, the inventor of the adhesive used on one of 3M's best-known products, the Post-it Note, died May 8. He was 80. 

In 1968, Silver was working in a 3M lab when he discovered a "peculiar formulation that didn't act like other adhesives," said a press release from the company. The formula allowed for paper to be stuck to a surface, removed, and then stuck somewhere else — without leaving a residue. 

A 'solution waiting for a problem'

His adhesive didn't take off immediately. Silver remembers her husband coming home with the adhesive in a spray bottle. He suggested she test it out while sewing their children's clothes. Instead of using pins, she used the spray adhesive

"It really wasn't very effective," she said with a laugh. 

Then in 1974, fellow M3 chemical engineer Art Fry caught wind of Silver's adhesive. Fry sang in a church choir, and the paper that he used to keep his place in the hymn book kept falling out. 

Silver says Fry called up her husband and asked to try the adhesive on his bookmark.

"And the rest is history," she said. 

The product was originally called the Press 'n' Peel memo pad in 1974 but it wasn't brought to the market until 1977 and didn't really take off until 1980, when it was renamed the Post-it Note. 

Spencer Silver, left, and his 3M colleague Art Fry, right. Fry came up with the idea to use Silver's adhesive on a bookmark. (3M)

Silver remembers the early days of using her husband's invention at her job as a computer programmer. 

She used the Post-it Notes to mark bugs in the printed off programme, instead of using a paperclip. Soon, her colleagues realized they needed Post-it Notes too.

Her husband once described his invention as a "solution waiting for a problem." Silver agrees. 

"Post-it notes were something that people didn't realise they needed or wanted until they had them," she said. "Once somebody started using them, then they couldn't stop." 

Post-it Notes now come in all sizes and colours. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Silver retired as a corporate scientist in 1996, with 37 patents, including the adhesive, to his name. He also won several awards, including the 1998 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention. Silver and Fry were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.

Silver says after her husband retired he embraced his love of painting. He had always painted part time, but later in life he began to push himself and experiment with the abstract. 

"The sense that art and science are two totally different things was not his belief at all. He thought it was all part of the same thing — creativity and creating things in art and pushing his art," she said. 

He also continued to mentor future scientists, and found hope in the younger generation.

"I remember he came back in 2018 from an invention competition and said, 'These kids are amazing. I think this country is going to be OK.' And that was good to hear," Silver said. 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff.