In this 1990 NBC News report, 3M company chemist Arthur Fry, co-inventor and developer of Post-it Notes, talks about the role of trial and error, success and flops, in inventing innovative products like mildly-adhesive notes that could be "permanently temporary."
Inventor of Note: Arthur Fry and the Story of Post-it Notes
John Chancellor, anchor:
On Cross Country this morning, Today correspondent Mike Leonard reports on a revolutionary invention that resulted from a little `sticktoitiveness.'
Mike Leonard reporting:
Of all the great products invented in our time, some are simply, well, simple. Now before you say...
Art Fry: Why didn't I think of that? Yeah.
Leonard: ...take careful note of that man and his notes because Art Fry, as it turns out, is the brains behind one of the simplest looking, yet most innovative discoveries, of our time. Post a list of great inventors and he without a doubt can stick his name right up there, using, of course, his brilliant invention.
Fry: It's a plain piece of paper with adhesive on it.
Leonard: The Post-It note.
Fry: People tell me all the time, `I don't know what I'd do without
Post-It notes. I don't know what I did before we had Post-It notes.'
Leonard: What they did was fumble with paper clips, tacks and staples. That was in the dark years before Art Fry's engineering colleague at the 3M company came up with a new kind of glue.
Fry: And everybody said, `Pfhh, it's not very good 'cause it doesn't stick very well, it doesn't hold my packages together or it doesn't do these other things.'
Leonard: Sounds like a drawback, doesn't it?
Fry: Drawbacks to, to one person are opportunities to another.
Leonard: Yes, one man's problem can be another man's solution; a glue solution that was sticky but not too sticky. In other words...
Fry: Permanently temporary.
Leonard: 3M introduced the Post-It note ten years ago. Before we talk about the product's success however, we should add this footnote.
Fry: There's very few things that people really need, but endless things that people want.
Leonard: I'll buy that, and so apparently will millions and millions of other people making the Post-It note a very profitable product for 3M. As an employee, Art Fry is paid to come up with such ideas and therefore has signed off any claims to a Post-It note fortune.
What he has earned though, along with Spencer Silver, the inventor of the original problem glue, is a place in 3M's Carlton Society, a hall of fame, if you will, for technical wizards. Obviously Art Fry is a well-respected man in company circles, but with jealousy the way it is, I was wondering if anybody ever considered putting a `Kick-me' sign with a Post-It note on your back?
Fry: There's, there's--there is--there's a little of that but, in general, it's something that we sort of all share.
Leonard: `All' meaning the other 3M inventive types who are allowed to spend up to fifteen percent of company time on projects of their own design. For every noteworthy success though, there are hundreds if not thousands of noteworthy flops.
Fry: It's a numbers game. You've gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. And, boy, have I kissed a lot of frogs in the past.
Leonard: His prince, of course, was a beauty, and even if he didn't make a million dollars for his idea...
Fry: You know, my grandkids and my great grandkids are going to be using sticky yellow notes, and for an inventor that's as close as you get to living forever, I think.
Leonard: A nice note to end a story on.
For Today, Mike Leonard, NBC News, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Picture this: You're playing soccer with friends. As you kick the ball, you realize the bottom of your foot feels cold and wet. You turn your sneaker up to look at the sole. A big crack is letting water from puddles seep right through it. When you get home, you throw your ruined sneakers in the trash.