25 May 2021
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Co-inventor of 3M Post-it Notes dies at 80

Spencer Silver

Spencer Silver, the inventor of the adhesive that would later become an integral part of 3M’s Post-it Notes, died on 8 May at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was 80.

Born in 1941 in San Antonio, Texas, Silver earned degrees in chemistry from Arizona State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, before joining 3M’s Central Research Laboratory in 1966.

Silver was working on adhesives in a 3M lab in 1968 when he discovered a peculiar formulation that didn’t act like other adhesives. It formed clear spheres that “kind of sparkled in the light,” Silver later recalled. The new adhesive was strong enough to hold paper together but could also be removed and would stick again – repeatedly – without damaging the paper. Silver looked for applications for his microsphere adhesive for several years while touting his creation to colleagues – calling it a “solution waiting for a problem to solve.”

Then in 1974, fellow 3M colleague Art Fry came up with the idea of using Silver’s invention to prevent paper bookmarks from falling out of his hymnal when he sang in church. Post-it Notes were born and went on to become one of 3M’s most well-known products.

”We were the right team to make it happen,” Fry said, reflecting on the work he and Silver did together. “It was like we were joined at the hip. Without his microspheres, I couldn't have made Post-it Notes, tapes, and labels. And without the Post-it products, his microspheres might not have found an application.”

Silver retired as a corporate scientist in 1996. He earned 37 patents during his time at 3M and won several awards, including the 1998 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010 and Minnesota Science & Technology Hall of Fame in 2011.

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