Why Are Post-it Notes Yellow?

A thought occurred to me as I stared at the Post-it notes on my desk: why are they yellow? I turned to Google, but could find no answer on the web. On the off-chance, I decided to ask 3M – inventors of the Post-it – via Twitter.

After much effort on their part, I received a detailed response via email, which included a transcription of an interview that had been conducted to specifically answer my question:

(23rd February 2010)
HM: Why were Post-it Notes originally yellow?
GN: “Great question – fantastic question. “
“Guess what – we were in the labs and if you imagine, this is my lab here, and then there’s a corridor, and then there’s another lab. They happened to have some scrap yellow paper – laughs – it’s absolutely true. “
“Now afterwards we had a lot of people who said well it’s got a good emotional connection or…” (pauses) “that’s a load of … whatever.”
“They had some scrap yellow paper – that’s why they were yellow; and when we went back and said ‘hey guys, you got any more scrap yellow paper?’ they said ‘you want any more go buy it yourself’, and that’s what we did, and that’s why they were yellow.”
“To me it was another one of those incredible accidents. It was not thought out; nobody said they’d better be yellow rather than white because they would blend in – it was a pure accident.”
“Just like the adhesive was a pure accident. They are the best kinds of accidents to have, but you have to recognise it – which we did.”
HM: “So who actually invented the Post-it note?”
GN: “There were three people. Spence Silver invented the adhesive by accident. He was trying to make – he was in the business of trying to make stronger better adhesives to stick aeroplanes together –  and we do stick aeroplanes together.”
“He came to my office about 48 hours after I joined the commercial tapes division from the overhead projectors part of the business.”
“I’d been made the new products laboratory manager, and they hadn’t had any new products in about 15 years. They hadn’t had a new product since magic tape, and magic tape was about 15 years old.”
“So he knocked on my door. There were two guys – Spence Silver and another guy called Bob Oliveira. They had discovered this adhesive in 1968 – that’s when the patent was filed – and here we are five years later in 1973.”
“He’s saying ‘Geoff would you be interested in this adhesive?’ And I said yes. Why? Because I’m naïve – I’m naïve about adhesives. I don’t know much about it. And I also believe a certain naivety is important. He asked me if I was interested.”
“He had been trying for 5 years to get any business unit interested in this adhesive so he gave me samples and we started playing with things and we started making bulletin boards. “
“As we were making bulletin boards, and tapes and things like that, another guy who worked for me was Art Fry. He was making tapes for skis – ski tape – things like book arranging tape- Things that you’d put on a bookshelf and it would hold books in place”.
“And he said ‘why are you putting the adhesive on a bulletin board. Why don’t you put it on a piece of paper and then we can stick it to anything.’”
“You know – and that was the three of us that came good. And I was in a management role primarily to defend and go fighting for it”.
“When you get down to it with innovation – a lot of people are required to make it successful. Marketing sales, even the accountants.”
“But you sometimes have to fight for it – and that’s inevitable in something that changes the basis of competition. People resist change.”

So there you have it. Not just a fascinating piece of history, but evidence of a company that are willing to go above-and-beyond for no immediate profit or benefit to themselves. 3M (and Hugh in particular), you rock.

Post-it image by Flickr user zarprey

Unorthodox Ships of War

Concrete Ships forming the Kiptopeke Breakwater

During the First World War, steel shortages forced President Wilson to commission the construction of 24 cement war ships. The war ended less than a year later, at which time the first 12 ships were still under construction. These were eventually completed and sold to private companies. Many of them can now be seen slowly decaying off the coast of the U.S., and one has even been converted to a 10 room hotel off the coast of Cuba.

Almost 25 years later, Geoffrey Pyke recommended the construction of a huge aircraft carrier – the equivalent of a floating island – made from ice and wood pulp, during the Second World War. The material, dubbed Pykrete, possesses incredible tensile strength – more than concrete – at less than half the density. The project, named Habakkuk after a biblical quote (“I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe“), underwent a number of prototypes and tests, from secret lairs under Smithfield Market in London, to Lake Louise in Canada, but was never fully realised due to a number of engineering and cost concerns.

Wikipedia recounts an entertaining anecdote about a demonstration of Pykrete’s strength:

… at the Quebec Conference of 1943, Lord Mountbatten brought a block of Pykrete along to demonstrate its potential to the bevy of admirals and generals who had come along with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mountbatten entered the project meeting with two blocks and placed them on the ground. One was a normal ice block and the other was Pykrete. He then drew his service pistol and shot at the first block. It shattered and splintered. Next, he fired at the Pykrete to give an idea of the resistance of that kind of ice to projectiles. The bullet ricocheted off the block, grazing the trouser leg of Admiral Ernest King and ended up in the wall.

Types Of BBC TV Programme

Types of BBC TV Programme

The BBC make the data available for their TV and Radio output. The graph above summarises the type of output you’d be exposed to by watching BBC1-4 for the 7 days that started on 5 February, 2010. There are many more categories mentioned in the data; the graph only includes categories that make up 1% or more of the output.

We have to conclude that the BBC know what the people want, and this reflects our needs. We want more soap opera than insight, more quizzes than programmes that inform, and more sports than advice. A cynic might suggest that this is a poor reflection on modern society, yet it more likely points to the main use of the TV medium, as an easy escape at the end of a stressful day.

Robert McGinnis: The Art of the Femme Fatale

Robert McGinnis - The Lion House

Robert McGinnis is a prolific American artist, responsible for illustrations adorning the covers of over 1,000 paperbacks. Much of his work concentrates on the crime/mystery genre, which features alluring, semi-naked women, as clearly demonstrated in the Robert McGinnis Flickr pool.

His talents are also employed for movie posters. Among the most memorable of his film output to date are the posters for Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Man With The Golden Gun (along with many other James Bond posters), and the collectable cult-classic poster for Barbarella.

A recent documentary, Painting the Last Rose of Summer (2008), beautifully captures his story and creative process.

The Lion House photo by Flickr user Olivander