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Art Fry, the Post-it Guy

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Transforming a Prototype into a Worldwide Phenomenon

Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-it note
Arthur Fry poses with his creation

From UMD to the Post-it Note

Art Fry, retired inventor and scientist most famous for his role as co-creator of the Post-it note, will give a presentation at the UMD Library Rotunda at 11 am on Friday, September 19. That evening, he will be inducted into the Academy of Science and Engineering which honors alumni and friends of the Swenson College of Science and Engineering.

Fry got his start as an engineer in grade school, crafting toboggans from scrap lumber while studying in a one-room schoolhouse. From there he moved on to attend Duluth Central High School, followed by two years of study at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "UMD gave me a good foundation in the basics of math and chemistry, tools that I could use the rest of my work career," Fry said. "Classes were taught by professors who did not have graduate students and focused their talents and creativity on teaching."

Fry then moved once more, to the U of M Twin Cities campus, where he continued his chemical engineering studies while working for 3M. "I was fascinated by the technologies which were proprietary to 3M and the culture which allowed me to work on my own project ideas, even as a temporary summer employee," Fry said. He started three projects during the first summer he worked there and continued to work on them during the school year.

In 1974, Fry attended a lecture by fellow 3M scientist Spencer Silver. Silver had developed a unique adhesive, strong enough to cling to surfaces yet weak enough to be removed easily. Fry discovered a novel use for Silver’s invention while singing in his church choir — he marked the pages of his hymnal with scraps of paper coated with Silver’s adhesive. The slips didn't fall out and didn't damage the marked pages.

Fry continued working with a sample of Silver’s innovation. He put a strip of adhesive on a note so that it could be attached to a margin of the paper or article and lifted to see the words underneath. Fry eventually began to use the prototype notes when writing messages to those in his workplace, broadening the application of the novel invention from a convenient bookmark to an all-around useful office stationery. That's when 3M took Fry's Post-it note concept to the marketplace.

A Lasting Legacy

Post-it notes have been on the market for over 35 years, and post-it products are currently sold in more than 100 countries. Fry and the Post-it note team have received accolades for the success of their product, including 3M's Golden Step award, given to teams whose products prove significantly profitable. Fry is also a member of 3M's Carlton Society and Circle of Technical Excellence.

Fry has some advice for students who aspire to work for the company that gave him his big break. "3M still hires summer technical employees, which provides them with a good look at prospective employees and introduces students to the culture of 3M."

Fry recommends that students try to score temporary jobs in their field. "It opens perspectives of job opportunities so that students can find a better fit for their talents and aspirations after they graduate. It is a lot better than spending a lot of money and time on a graduate degree, only to find that you don't really enjoy that type of work or that there is limited need for that expertise."

Interested in hearing more from the retired inventor? See Arthur Fry at the UMD Library Rotunda at 11 am on September 19.

For more information, contact Professor & Head of Chemical Engineering Richard Davis,

Written by Zach Lunderberg, September 2014.

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