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Fascinating facts about the invention of
Scotchgard™ by Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith in 1956.
Fluorochemical technology contributes to a broad array of 3M's modern day products and processes. So it may be difficult to believe that, once upon a time, 3M was all but stumped by the challenge of how to create a successful new product from fluorochemicals.
That challenge was met by Patsy Sherman, a young chemical researcher who joined 3M in 1952. Sherman was assigned to work on a project to develop a rubber material that would resist deterioration from jet aircraft fuels. As is often the case with innovative breakthroughs, Sherman failed to solve the problem assigned to her, but discovered, instead, a whole new way to put fluorochemical compounds to use. It all began with the careful attention paid by Sherman to a seemingly trivial accident. SCOTCHDARD
In 1953, an assistant in Sherman's lab spilled some drops of an experimental compound on her new tennis shoes. The assistant was merely annoyed by her inability to clean off the drops – soap, alcohol and other solvents were of no avail.

But Sherman was fascinated by the amazing resiliency of the experimental compound. With the help of fellow 3M chemist Sam Smith, Sherman began to conceive of an idea that seemed unthinkable at the time – the development of a fluorochemical polymer that could actually repel oil and water from fabrics. They set to work to enhance the liquid repellency of the experimental compound, as well as to reduce its cost.

In 1956, as a result of the joint research of Sherman and Smith, the Scotchgard™ Protector was launched in the marketplace. The unarticulated need of customers for a versatile fabric and material protector had been articulated – and satisfied – at last. The broad line of successful Scotchgard™ brand products was under way.

And the Scotchgard™ brand has remained the market leader ever since – though 3M has never ceased to make innovative improvements in the product line. Fittingly, it was Smith's son, Richard – following in his father's footsteps as a 3M researcher – who enhanced the environmental performance of Scotchgard™ brand products.

Quite literally, the discovery of the Scotchgard protector stemmed from an accident. This led many to observe that 3M had a seeming knack of stumbling onto new products. But as 3M executive Richard P. Carlton wryly and wisely observed, "You can't stumble if you're not in motion."

As for Sherman, her subsequent career at 3M was one of constant innovative motion. She eventually became manager of 3M Technical Development, and established a continuing technical education program for 3M technical employees. She retired in 1992.

Through all her success, Sherman has retained her appreciation for the role of the unexpected in innovation. "How many great discoveries," she once asked, "would never have occurred were it not for accidents?"


Chemistry History   from The Great Idea Finder

A Century of Innovation at 3M   from The Great Idea Finder

Innovation: Breakthrough Thinking at 3M
Rosabeth Moss Kanter / Hardcover - 209 pages / Harper Business - 1997
While many managers still view creativity and originality in the workplace with suspicion and apprehension, some of today's top corporations are parlaying these same traits into notable long-term success.

History of Scotchgard
Patsy Sherman and the discovery of Scotchgard™ Fabric Protector
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith featured July 1998 for her co-invention of
National Inventors Hall of Fame-Sam Smith
Sam Smith: Born Sep 13 1927 Block and Graft Copolymers Containing Water Solvatable Polar Groups and Fluoroaliphatic Groups (Scotchgard (TM) Textile Proctector). Patent Number 3,574,791.
National Inventors Hall of Fame-Patsy Sherman
Patsy Sherman: Born Sep 15 1930 Block and Graft Copolymers Containing Water Solvatable Polar Groups and Fluoroaliphatic Groups (Scotchgard (TM) Textile Proctector). Patent Number 3,574,791.
Science's Surprising Discoveries - The Aftermath of an Accident
Article from before you buy.

"Anyone can become an inventor as long as they keep an open and inquiring mind and never overlook the possible significance of an accident or apparent failure." -  Patsy Sherman tells students,


  • Sherman went on to further inventions at 3M; meanwhile, Scotchgard™ itself also evolved. For example, since 1978 it has been used to coat photographic and motion picture film: "Photogard" makes film resistant to dirt, liquids, bacteria, static, and abrasions, while keeping the film 97% translucent and 100% flexible.
Scotchgard is a registered trademark of 3M.  All rights reserved.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised January, 2005.

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