Back in the early 1920s, 3M made only sandpaper. Yet a banjo-playing lab assistant, Richard Drew, trying to solve a problem for autobody workers who couldn’t apply paint in clean lines on refurbished cars, came up with an early version of masking tape.
When the adhesive didn’t stick well enough, a painter allegedly complained: “Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!”
Thus, when Drew invented properly sticky waterproof tape in 1930, it was dubbed “Scotch” Tape. Had nothing to do with drinking himself into posterity.
A half-century later, 3M employee Arthur Fry borrowed a “low-tack” adhesive developed by colleague Spencer Silver and some spare, unpopularly bland yellow paper from a local printshop to mark his place in his hymnbook.
The resulting Post-it gave birth to a ubiquitous line of products that has made the leap from paper to digital, with “sticky notes” being a common feature in word-processing and blogging.
This kind of innovation seems truly American. Unfortunately, our top technological companies are renouncing their citizenship to avoid paying corporate taxes by express-shipping $1.2 trillion in corporate profits overseas, in such tax havens as Zug, Switzerland, and Dublin, where the corporate tax rate is about 16% and 12.5%, respectively, compared with the United States’ 35% rate.
Scotch bosses? Try Irish bosses.
Doing the math, it seems $1.2 trillion could help patch our debt problem. Recessed American innovation is being stifled by a dominant American trait: greed.
Note to 3M: You are due for another groundbreaking innovation.
If you didn’t see this 60 Minutes installment last March, you should. It sticks with you.
(A bitter pill: You must suffer through one 1-minute pharmaceutical ad to watch the whole thing.)
- Human-side economics: Fairness at play (mommytongue.com)
- IBM and 3M Stick Silicon Towers Together; Scotch Tape Not Involved (pcworld.com)
- Casa Beta: Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape and Film (casasugar.com)
- Super Scotch! (scrapbooklady.typepad.com)