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Fascinating facts about the invention
of
Masking Tape by Dick Drew in 1925.
MASKING TAPE
Dick Drew’s development of the first masking tape is an example of his extraordinary gift for solving customer problems. In the early 1920s, 3M manufactured and sold abrasives.
One afternoon, Drew wanted to test a new batch of sandpaper, so he visited an auto body shop in St. Paul, Minn. When he entered the shop, he heard a group of workers cursing vehemently. He asked about the problem. Two-tone cars were popular then, but the effect required workers to mask certain parts of the auto body using a combination of heavy adhesive tape and butcher paper. After the paint dried, workers removed the tape – and often peeled away part of the new paint. Their labor was undone, and costs mounted for the customer.
Drew watched as the workers began to touch up the flawed paint. He could have seen this as an opportunity to sell more sandpaper, but realized that what the customer really needed was a tape with less aggressive adhesive. Drew also realized that 3M already had several of the elements of tape making at its disposal. Sandpaper required a backing, an adhesive and an abrasive mineral. Hold the mineral and you have an adhesive tape.

Drew took his idea back to the lab. He began a long and frustrating quest for the right combination of materials to create what would become the world’s first tape specifically designed for masking. Drew wrestled with the adhesive and, especially, the backing. After some time, then-President McKnight told Drew to drop the project and get back to work on improving sandpaper.

Drew agreed – for about 24 hours. Then he thought of a new way to handle the backings and went back to the lab. He threw himself into the task with renewed enthusiasm and without concern for McKnight’s direction. In the middle of an experiment, a door opened and McKnight entered the lab. He looked at Drew, noted the experiment and continued walking.

Drew finally hit on the right combination of materials, and he asked McKnight to approve funding for a paper making machine needed to manufacture the new tape. McKnight considered the proposal, but demurred. Rather than give up, Drew simply applied his talent for innovation. In his capacity as a researcher, he had authority to approve purchases of up to $100; he began writing a flurry of $99 purchase orders and later confessed his strategy to McKnight while he was showing him the new machine.

There’s no record of McKnight’s reaction, except that Drew continued to work for 3M. The non-exchange between McKnight and Drew in the lab, followed by Drew’s openly insubordinate purchase of the papermaker, have echoed through 3M’s research operations ever since. Together, they set forth a clear ethic for managers: If you have the right person on the right project, and they are absolutely dedicated to finding a solution – leave them alone. Tolerate their initiative and trust them.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
History of Offfice Equipment  from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of Duct Tape
  from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of Cellophane Tape   from The Great Idea Finder
Century of Innovation at 3M   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Accidents May Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Hardcover - 86 pages (1996) / Delacorte
Fifty inventions discovered by mistake receive entertaining cartoon embellishment but are actually serious subjects which will delight and entertain kids.

The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.

ON THE WEB:
Dick Drew and the invention of masking tape
3M listens to its customers. And when employees discover an important customer need, they have the freedom to pursue a solution.

(URL: www.3m.com/about3m/pioneers/drew.jhtml)
Scotch Tape Timeline
The first Scotch® Masking Tape was invented in 1925 to help auto manufacturers solve a problem.
(URL: www.3m.com/about3m/student/scotchbrand/scotchbrand_index.jhtml)
Three-M History
For an overview of 3M's history, including more tales of the tape, visit their Innovation Network.
(URL: www.3m.com/about3m/history/index.jhtml)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Featured Richard Drew for his invention of transparent adhesive tape.
(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/drew.html)

DID YOU KNOW:

  • The development of masking tape also established a code of behavior among 3M researchers: If you are convinced that you are doing the right thing, go ahead. Don’t worry too much about the consequences; it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Trademarks or registered trademarks of 3M.  All rights reserved.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised January, 2005.
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