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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, May 8, 2021

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Spencer Ferguson Silver III, Inventor of Post-it Notes

Business and Science

Spencer Silver III (80) was born on February 6, 1941, in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1966. Dr. Silver went on to work for 3M in the central research laboratory developing adhesives. In 1968, he was trying to create an adhesive that was so strong it could be used in aircraft construction, however, he failed in that goal. But during his experimentation, he invented something entirely different: an adhesive that stuck to surfaces, but that could be easily peeled off and reusable. He patented the adhesive (technically called acrylate copolymer microspheres) in 1972. But two more years passed before Art Fry, a chemical engineer in the tape division lab, who was looking to develop new products, discovered it. He didn’t think of an immediate application for the adhesive until one day, while at church choir practice, he realized that the slips of paper that Mr. Fry had been using to bookmark songs in his hymnal kept falling out. So he used a sample of Dr. Silver’s adhesive to create a bookmark that stayed put, but didn’t tear the pages when removed. In 1979, 3M introduced Post-it Notes nationally. 3M’s sticky note patent ran out in the 1990s, but their myriad variations on the original continue to generate $1 billion every year. Dr. Silver also enjoyed painting part time during his years at 3M. He pursued art more seriously in retirement, using acrylics, oils and pastels on canvas to create abstract works. Dr. Silver died on May 8, 2021, at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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