I recently bought a house and, in my price range, it’s the kind of place that is not immediately livable. The hardest part will be swallowing the electrician’s bill. For the rest of it, I’ll need to do it myself (with some help!). I went to the hardware store recently to cry about the price of materials. I was looking at the adhesive tape section and that led me to the usual question:
Who Invented Adhesive Tape?
First, what is adhesive tape? Well, Merrian-Webster described it as:
- It is tape coated on one side with an adhesive mixture.
- A narrow strip of material that is sticky on one side and is used to stick one thing to another.
Seems like a simple thing to think about. In fact, some types of glue combined with bonding materials were used throughout history to build and fixed things … and people (you know, for surgical use).
In fact, the first adhesive tape was a kind of surgical tape developed in 1845 by Dr. Horace Day. He used India rubber, pine gum, litharge, turpentine, and extract of cayenne pepper. He mixed everything together and put the result on strips of fabric. It is the first “rubber-based” adhesive.
This adhesive—at least, something really similar—was later manufactured on a large scale by Robert Wood Johnson and George Seaburg, in New Jersey, starting in 1874. Their company is today known as the Johnson & Johnson Company.
It took a long time before Dr. Day’s invention to find another application. It was used in the auto industry in the 1920s. Richard Gurley Drew studied mechanical engineering for 18 months at the University of Minnesota before dropping out. At 22, in 1923, he started working for a sandpaper manufacturer, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M). There, while doing some tests on sandpaper samples at an auto-body shop, he noticed how difficult it was to obtain a quality paint job on the increasingly popular two-toned automobiles.
The challenge was to get a clean line where the two paint colors met. Back then, workers used butcher’s paper with a type of adhesive that left some kind of residue behind. Drew started tests with a different type of paper. It took him two years of experiments to finally find a good combination (cabinetmaker’s glue and treated crepe paper).
That way, Richard Gurley Drew invented the first paper-backed pressure-adhesive tape. Sticky, but easy to remove! His masking tape hit the market in 1925. A few months later, he launched his waterproof transparent tape. The results were mixed with it. The cellophane he used was not the easiest material to work with, and it was not really transparent, but amber-colored.
The Origin of the Scotch Tape
Drew’s brand is called Scotch. The history behind the name is that, while testing his masking tape, an unsatisfied worker told him to “take that tape back to your Scotch bosses and tell them to put some more adhesive on it!” Scotch was then a pejorative word used to accuse someone of being cheap.
The Scotch Tape rapidly found its way into everyday life and became used for a lot more. Also, it was cheap and, during the depression, it helped a lot—it was used to fix a lot of things, small and big—and the product was adopted by the masses.
Also, the first tape dispenser with a built-in cutter blade, it was invented in 1932 by another 3M employee, a man named John A Borden.
Richard Gurley Drew’s tape was the first of more than 900 pressure-sensitive tapes created afterward. Every domain, from office supplies to electrical work, has the use of adhesive tape.