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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Scotch Tape

In 1930, American inventor Richard Gurley Drew, an American inventor who worked for Johnson & Johnson, Permacel Co., and 3M, created Scotch tape.

Drew, a college drop out, joined 3M (originally called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) in 1921 when it was then a manufacturer of sandpaper. As a young lab assistant, he invented Masking Tape in 1925, while testing abrasive samples at a body shop, noticing that painters were having trouble "masking" car parts.

A frustrated auto painter who was involved in the early testing of masking tape was upset that at times it would fall off. The early prototypes had an adhesive on both sides, but not the middle. He reportedly yelled at Drew, telling him to "take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!" His use of the word "Scotch," was a slur because at the time, Scottish immigrants were seen as being "stingy."

Drew went on to develop the world's first transparent cellophane adhesive tape. It was called sellotape in the UK and in the US, it was branded as Scotch tape. Ironically, the new brand sold very well during the Great Depression, as people began to use Scotch tape to repair a variety of items rather than replace them in an effort to save as much money as possible.

The name stuck, to the point where Scotty McTape, a kilt-wearing cartoon boy, was the brand's mascot for two decades, first appearing in 1944. The familiar tartan design, based on the well-known Wallace tartan, was introduced in 1945 as part of the branding and marketing.

A side note about 3M, from the perspective of someone who has never worked for them, but has worked with them on fabric innovation. The company invests over 5% of their budget on research and investment and encourages their teams to spend up to 15% of their work time to set aside their daily work to pursue new ideas. Often times, innovation comes from these pursuits, and other times, by accident, stumbling onto a solution for a problem that they may not have been trying to solve.

Oh, and I don't believe that the five original founders of 3M were Scottish. Maybe one was Irish-American? And the painter was just a jerk. But I do love how they leaned in to the insult!


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