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Adhesives History: How a Sandpaper Sample Tester Invented Scotch Tape

Posted By ASC, Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In 1899, Richard Gurley Drew dropped out of college and went to work for a sandpaper manufacturer. At the time, nobody could have guessed that this young man would change the world with an invention that became ubiquitous: cellophane tape. While testing sandpaper samples in an auto body shop, he noticed that getting a two-tone paint job was a very difficult task. To get a clean division between colors, workers stuck butcher’s paper to the bodywork using strong adhesives that left a residue. A gentler adhesive that would still prevent paint from bleeding was clearly needed.


He developed his idea and came up with the first version of masking tape, filing his patent for a clear tape in 1928. Legend has it that during testing, a body-shop technician became frustrated with a prototype that didn’t have enough adhesive. He told a representative to take the tape back to his ‘Scotch’ bosses and tell them it needed more adhesive. According to the story, that’s how the brand name “Scotch” came into being.


In 1930, a transparent cellulose tape was introduced onto the market: a world first. Recognizing Drew’s inventiveness, his firm put him in charge of developing new products. He did not disappoint them. He and his team invented reflective sheeting for road signs, breathable surgical tapes, face masks, insulation tapes and foam tapes, filing 30 patents by the time he retired in 1962. 3M the company that owns the Scotch brand, continues to develop new products and pressure sensitive adhesives.



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