What is the greatest invention of the last fifty years?

Post it notes appear everywhere in our lives without us paying much attention to them - What is the greatest invention of the last fifty years? introduction. They are little sheets of paper, most commonly and originally in the bright yellow colour, which temporarily attach to documents and many other items without causing any damage. They are excellent substitutes to bookmarks and great for sticking on the backs of friends with little messages to the public most commonly ‘kick me’. However, post it notes were not always this successful and popular. It took two men named Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry – and an accidental invention – to eventually get the notes out on the market and bought by the public.

During the year of 1970 Spencer Silver worked at 3M laboratories which is a glue company located in America. Spencer Silver was set the task of developing an incredibly strong adhesive like no other on the market. However, Silver wasn’t very successful. In fact it was a complete failure and instead of creating an ultra-strong adhesive, he created a new super weak adhesive. At first glance, this appeared to be of no use to the company as it was a weaker substance to those already produced by 3M. ‘What a waste’ was the first impression this glue gave the company.

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They were looking for bigger and better glue types and Silver had done anything but this. However, the smart man that Silver was (though some say not so smart as he wasn’t able to develop the strong glue he was supposed to in the first place) he did not discard of his invention immediately. The glue was left aside and the ultimate inspiration for the post-it sticky notes did not come till a few years later. This was possibly one of the smartest moves made by man in the last fifty years.

Another 3M scientist who went by the name of Arthur Fry had attended one of Spencer Silver’s meetings and had learnt about the super weak glue. Four years after the actual development of the weak glue in 1974, Arthur Fry was singing in the church choir the usual hymns from his hymnal. He had placed several markers in places he needed to keep track of in order to keep up with the melodious singing of the rest of the church choir. However, these markers kept annoying poor Mr Fry by falling out all over the place during the church service.

Not only was this an embarrassing ordeal to go through, but he probably would have been thrown out with all the fuss he was making if it was not for his brainwave. He remembered the meeting of Silver’s he’d attended-not by choice of course. He distinctly remembered the super weak adhesive that no one could find a use for and immediately applied a layer of Spencer Silver’s weak adhesive glue onto the markers. This kept them in place until the end of the church service and stopped Arthur Fry from blushing anymore – the poor lad. The markers remained in place yet when Arthur Fry lifted them up they left no marks on his pages and did not damage the book in any way. This was an amazing discovery which Arthur Fry tried to take further into the business world.

However, as with all big ideas, there were problems. 3M were hesitant to release this new idea in case it was taken badly by the public or other businesses. They did not want to give 3M a bad impression in front of bigger and better companies that were out there. 3M felt that there was no real use for the post-it notes when people could use a scrap of paper instead. Nevertheless, the campaign went forward and in 1977 the launch of the new post-it notes took off. It was a failure. People were unsure what the post-it note was or what it was for because they had never seen anything like them before. They weren’t sure if the colourful bits of paper were to stick on their foreheads or to simply look at the bright yellow colour and end up dizzy and giddy – another drug perhaps. This lack of understanding meant that sales were near minimum to nothing.

Arthur Fry was not one to allow what he considered to be an amazing new invention to simply fall at the first hurdle. No, he was going to take his discovery all the way to the finishing line. In 1978 Fry began to distribute the post-it notes free to the public to raise awareness of the new product and its uses. This proved to be the turning point for the post-it note and by 1980 3M distributed the post-it notes nationwide, this time actually receiving money in return for the little slips of paper. This was ten years after Spencer Silver developed the original super weak adhesive – took them long enough didn’t it. Despite being 3Ms original invention, 3M’s patent ran out in 2001 which means that since then, post-it notes can be produced by any company with no danger of facing a legal ordeal.

The post-it note is now a must have product in offices worldwide and is also used as a teaching technique with students. The post-it note has changed and shaped the way we live our lives today very significantly without us realising to a large extent. Very subtly the post-it note has taught us to become more organised and helped us remember those all important phone numbers and messages. It has become the most important element for youngsters when revising. Today the post-it note also appears in funny little shapes and various other bright colours-probably to attract kids to the art of revision more. Whether it has worked or not is a question that remains unanswered and perhaps an invention of the next fifty years will solve this question.

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