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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: 3M, Scotch Tape and Innovation


Original Scotch Tape
Original Scotch Tape (photo credit: www.cbsnews.com)

In 1930, 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing), began marketing its innovative Scotch Tape, the first waterproof, transparent, pressure-sensitive tape after employee Richard Drew figures out how to coat strips of cellophane with adhesive. The story of Scotch Tape's creation is intertwined with the history of 3M, a company founded on innovation and driven by the pursuit of solving real-world problems.

Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co.
Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. (photo credit: www.saintpaulhistorical.com)

The Founding of 3M

The history of 3M dates back to 1902 when five entrepreneurs, including John Dwan, Henry Bryan, Hermon Cable, William McGonagle, and Dr. J. Danley Budd, came together to establish the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. The initial aim of the company was to mine corundum, a mineral used in making abrasive grinding wheels. However, the company's founders quickly realized that the corundum they were mining was of inferior quality, prompting them to pivot their focus.


With their mining venture facing challenges, the founders of 3M began exploring other opportunities. It was during this time that they turned their attention to the burgeoning field of industrial abrasives. They began developing and selling abrasives, such as sandpaper, which found applications in various industries, including metalworking and woodworking. This strategic shift towards innovative industrial solutions set the stage for 3M's future success.

Scotch Brand
Scotch Brand (photo credit: www. theparisreview.org)

Pivot Towards Innovation

A key figure who played a pivotal role in 3M's early years was William L. McKnight. Joining 3M in 1907 as an assistant bookkeeper, McKnight quickly rose through the ranks due to his dedication and innovative thinking. In 1916, he became the company's assistant general manager and, later, its president in 1929. Under McKnight's leadership, 3M fostered a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship


The story of Scotch Tape's creation can be attributed to a dedicated 3M employee named Richard Drew. Drew was an engineer with a knack for problem-solving and a determination to invent products that met real-world needs. In the late 1920s, Drew embarked on a mission to develop a practical and versatile adhesive tape. At the time, adhesive tapes were available, but they had limitations. They were often difficult to handle, lacked transparency, and struggled to adhere to surfaces effectively. Drew's challenge was to create a tape that could easily stick to surfaces, remain transparent, and offer waterproof properties, all while being user-friendly.

Early testing of scotch tape
Early testing of scotch tape (photo credit: www.acs.org)

Birth of Scotch Tape

Richard Drew's breakthrough came when he was tasked with finding a solution for painters who needed a tape that could mask surfaces effectively without damaging paint or leaving residue behind. He experimented with various materials and adhesives until he finally discovered the winning combination: cellophane coated with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. This revolutionary tape not only adhered well to surfaces but could also be easily torn by hand, eliminating the need for scissors.


In 1930, 3M officially introduced this innovative adhesive tape to the market under the brand name "Scotch." The name "Scotch" was derived from a colloquial term that meant "frugal" or "economical," reflecting the tape's practical and cost-effective nature. Scotch Tape quickly gained popularity for its versatility and convenience, becoming an indispensable tool in homes, offices, and industries worldwide.

History of 3M Logos
History of 3M Logos (photo credit: 1000 Logos)

3M's Commitment to Innovation

Scotch Tape's introduction had a profound impact on various industries and everyday life. It revolutionized packaging, gift wrapping, and sealing tasks, making them quicker and more efficient. The transparent and waterproof properties of Scotch Tape also found applications in photography, where it was used for splicing film. Additionally, Scotch Tape played a crucial role in scientific research and laboratory work, where it was employed for a wide range of purposes.


The success of Scotch Tape marked the beginning of 3M's legacy of innovation. The company continued to develop and market inventive products across diverse industries, from adhesive technologies to healthcare solutions, and from safety materials to consumer goods. 3M's commitment to research and development led to the creation of iconic products like Post-it Notes, reflective materials for road signs, and even innovations in healthcare products.


Throughout its history, 3M has achieved numerous milestones that have solidified its reputation as a global leader in innovation. Some key moments include:

  1. Introduction of Post-it Notes: In 1980, 3M introduced Post-it Notes, the iconic sticky notes that have become ubiquitous in offices and homes worldwide. The invention was a result of an adhesive formulation that allowed notes to be easily repositioned.

  2. Advancements in Medical Products: 3M developed a range of medical products, including the first waterproof surgical tape, dental products, and advanced wound care solutions. These innovations have improved patient care and medical practices.

  3. Pioneering Reflective Materials: 3M developed high-visibility reflective materials used in road signs, license plates, and vehicle markings. These materials significantly enhanced nighttime road safety.

  4. Expansion into Electronics: The company ventured into the electronics industry, producing products like optical films, microreplication technologies, and semiconductor materials.

  5. Commitment to Sustainability: 3M has been a leader in sustainability efforts, with a commitment to reducing its environmental footprint and developing sustainable solutions for various industries.



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