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3M makes a difference

3M Europe : 23 April, 2003  (New Product)
3M is probably best known for inventing two of the most ubiquitous office products of the 20th century: Scotch transparent tapes and Post-it Notes. But there are many lesser known 3M products and technologies in dozens of other markets
As 3M celebrates its centennial in 2002, the following is a partial list of some of the company’s most innovative and lasting contributions which help make people’s lives better (including, of course, Scotch brand tapes and Post-it Notes):

• Scotch Masking Tape (1925) and Cellophane Tape (1930): Created by legendary 3M inventor Dick Drew, these products illustrate 3M’s uncanny gift for solving customers’ problems. Drew conceived the idea for Scotch masking tape by watching auto workers struggle with painting two-tone cars. After workers removed heavy adhesive tape and butcher paper, the paint job was often damaged. Not so with Scotch masking tape! Five years later, lightning struck again when Drew developed Scotch cellophane tape — ideal for repairing torn book pages and currency, patching cracked turkey eggs, posting homework assignments and for thousands of other everyday applications.

• Scotchlite Reflective Sheeting (1939): Spearheaded by researcher (and future president of 3M) Harry Heltzer, Scotchlite reflective sheeting also demonstrates the clear linkage between creative research and customer needs. The story began in 1937, when a Minnesota highway official mentioned to a 3M sales representative that there would be a good market for any company that could create a highway center-striping that was more reflective at night than white or yellow paint. After several product failures, Heltzer and his team developed a glass bead compound that solved the problem. By applying the film on signs so the glass bead compound reflects the car’s headlights back to the driver, 3M quickly became the market leader in highway signage.

• Surgical Drapes (1948): Developed by a team, led by laboratory researcher (and future CEO of 3M) Lew Lehr, 3M surgical drapes addressed the need to make surgical conditions more sterile. In the 1940s, the best a surgical team could do was to sterilize a cloth towel and position it around the operation site, often attaching it with pinchers to the patient’s skin. Often the wound became exposed, increasing the risk of infection. 3M’s breakthrough surgical drapes featured a plastic sheet with adhesive that would stick to the skin right up to the wound edge, dramatically reducing the risk of infection.

• World’s First Magnetic Audio (1949) and Video Recording Tape (1954): Led by a team of dedicated 3M researchers and scientists, most notably Mel Sater and Joe Massitello, the company developed the world’s first high quality magnetic recording tape more than 50 years ago. It proved to be an instant success when legendary crooner Bing Crosby used the tape to pre-record his broadcasts, solving the problem of national time zone changes. Five years later, RCA used Scotch magnetic tape to record television programs for the first time.

• World’s First Photocopier (1951): 3M introduced the world’s first photocopier more than 50 years ago, using technology developed by several company researchers. The business grew rapidly throughout the 1950s and 1960s, playing a key role in the establishment and expansion of international businesses. 3M was a world leader in copying for nearly 20 years and eventually exited the business in the 1980s.

• Scotchgard Fabric Protector (1956): Created by well-known 3M inventors Patsy Sherman and Samuel Smith, both of whom were recently inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, Scotchgard fabric protector repels oil and water from fabrics, helping to prevent stains and damage. The idea for Scotchgard was born when an assistant in Sherman’s lab accidentally spilled some drops of an experimental compound on her new tennis shoes. Fascinated by the amazing resiliency of the compound, Sherman and Smith created a formula to protect fabrics in a new and innovative way.

• World’s First Metered Dose Inhaler (1956): Invented by 3M scientist Charles Thiel, the metered-dose inhaler enabled asthmatics and other persons with medical needs to administer repeated dosages of medicine without cumbersome refilling procedures. The idea for the metered-dose inhaler was born when the 13-year-old daughter of the president of Riker Laboratories (now 3M Pharmaceuticals) asked her father, “Why can’t they put my asthma medicine in a spray can like they do hair spray?”

• Thinsulate Insulation (1979): Thinsulate insulation began in the 1960s when the company began experimenting with developing super lightweight fabrics to help keep people warm and dry. After more than a decade of research, 3M perfected the technology, which traps more air in less space than any other insulating material used in the apparel industry. Even when wet, Thinsulate fibers still help block out cold air because these fibers absorb less than one percent of their weight in water. Versions of Thinsulate Insulation are now being used in cars to make the interior quieter.

• Post-It Notes (1980): Created by 3M research scientists Art Fry and Spence Silver, the idea of Post-it Notes came to life after Fry became increasingly frustrated when his paper bookmarks kept falling out of his church choir hymnal. In an eureka moment, Fry realized that a weak adhesive developed by Silver years earlier could make a wonderfully reliable bookmark. After years of research to fine-tune the product, 3M introduced
Post-it Notes. The products quickly became a fixture in millions of offices and homes in the United States and around the world.
• Scotchshield Window Film (1991): Developed by a team of researchers over two decades, Scotchshield window film substantially reduces the effects of flying shards of glass by holding the broken pieces of glass together. The film is used in automobiles and buildings around the world, providing protection from high wind, vandalism, theft and high impact collisions.

• Aldara Cream and Other Immune Response Modifiers (1997): Spearheaded by 3M scientists Dr. Richard Miller and Dr. John Gerstner, Aldara cream is part of a new class of drugs, known as immune response modifiers (IRMs), that stimulate the immune system to fight off a virus. Miller, Gerstner and their colleagues conducted research on Aldara cream for more than a decade before it was approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997. Aldara Cream is used to treat genital warts and is now the leading treatment in its category. The compound and related 3M molecules are currently in clinical trials to treat a common form of skin cancer, herpes and other diseases.
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