The bright idea that stuck turns 96 years old this year

19th Jul 2021

It was in June 1925 that Richard Drew, 3M’s banjo-playing inventor, created the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company’s very first adhesive product 96 years ago.

Born June 22nd, 1899, Richard Drew was an engineering school dropout who made his living playing the banjo for dance bands, while studying mechanical engineering through correspondence school - that was, until he found a job opening at 3M’s tiny research lab.

I have not as yet been employed in commercial work and am very eager to get started” he wrote to Bill Vievering, 3M’s first quality assurance expert. “I realise that my services would not be worth much until a certain amount of practical experience is gained, and I would be glad to start with any salary you see fit to give.

Throughout his first two years at 3M, Drew was responsible for running tests on Francis Okie’s revolutionary Wetordry Sandpaper. He was tasked with checking on the raw materials and creating samples of Okie’s product for testing at local autobody shops.

While awaiting the results of his Wetordry Sandpaper samples, Drew couldn’t help but notice that the air was peppered with the “choicest profanity” he’d ever heard, coming from the autobody painters. Two-tone colour schemes on cars were exceptionally popular at the time - however it became immediately obvious to Drew that creating this style was tedious work.

Drew observed that as the painters tried to remove the plaster tape available to them, the car’s paint would often come off with it - bonded by the inadequate adhesive existing on their plasterer's tape. In other cases, the adhesive on their plasters tape would become softened by the lacquer and remain as a sticky and unsightly residue on the cars’ surface when painters tried to remove the tape.

Could Drew help?

Without any possible clue as to how, Drew promised the painters that he would find a solution: a non-drying adhesive tape that would solve this sticky problem – an idea that might have sounded ridiculous at the time.

Drew went to work, looking for a resolution that would adhere to the painters’ needs.

Drew kept his word, working hard to solve the sticky problem - even when 3M president William McKnight ordered Drew to discontinue his work, and to focus on his task at hand: improving Okie’s Wetordry Sandpaper. Drew ignored McKnight’s instruction, clinging onto his need to follow through on this promise to the autobody painters.

Innovation comes from individual initiative. You can’t make a difference just by following orders.

Two years later in 1925, Drew’s Scotch® Masking Tape debuted - finally providing autobody painters with a solution to their tacky dilemma while revolutionising the adhesive market. Today, 3M tapes continue to provide solutions to all sorts of sticky problems, from Scotch Brand tapes that cater to anyone and everyone for crafting, painting, fixing, and creating, to heavy duty 3M™ VHB™ Tapes that are so strong, they can even stick some components of skyscrapers together.

Drew’s legacy didn’t just result in revolutionary adhesives, though.

Drew, and his indispensable desire to create life-improving solutions left its mark on 3M culture - a mark that still resonates globally today, and one that is connected to many revolutionary 3M product inventions. This is known as the 15%-time rule.

This rule encourages employees to set aside 15% of their at-work time, to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them as individuals. Thanks to Drew, 3Mers today receive the space and time to try new things, think differently, be creative and challenge the status-quo - giving 3Mers across the globe the license to innovate, thanks to Richard Drew’s fearless drive to improve lives.

See the Scotch Performance Masking Tape 233+ here, and the 3M Value Masking Tape 101+ here.

And check out a few of our VHB (Very High Bond) tapes here!