3M’s Spencer Silver, inventor of the Post-It Notes adhesive, dead at 80

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Spencer Silver, the inventor of the adhesive used to attach Post-it-Notes, has died at the age of 80.

Silver’s published obituary confirmed he died Saturday at his St. Paul, Minnesota, home. His wife told The New York Times that he died following a ventricular tachycardia episode, 27 years after receiving a heart transplant.

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Silver, a research chemist in 3M’s Central Research Laboratory, discovered a unique adhesive formula in 1968 that he called a “solution waiting for a problem to solve,” the company confirmed.

The problem was identified six years later when Silver’s colleague, Art Fry, came up with the idea of using the adhesive – which allows notes to be easily and repeatedly attached and removed from surfaces – to prevent paper bookmarks from falling out of his hymnal when he sang in church, 3M confirmed.

Although the product was originally called the Press ‘n’ Peel memo pad and not brought to market for three years, the revolutionary office supply found its commercial footing in 1980 and was rebranded Post-It Notes. More than 40 years later, Post-It-Notes remain one of the top-selling items in 3M’s consumer products division.

There are currently more than 3,000 Post-it Brand products sold globally, the Times reported.

Born Spencer Ferguson Silver III on Feb. 6, 1941, he was the son of a San Antonio accountant and a secretary, who graduated from Arizona State University in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He later earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder and married the former Linda Martin in 1965. He was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Minnesota Science & Technology Hall of Fame in 2011, 3M confirmed.

According to the Times, Silver rose through 3M’s ranks from senior chemist to corporate scientist during his 30 years with the company, including projects focused on branch block copolymers and immuno-diagnostics.

“Spence was a remarkable man who I’m proud to have known and called a friend and mentor,” John Banovetz, 3M’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said in a prepared statement. “He epitomized the 3M approach to R&D – science driven, collaborative, creative, and making an impact in the world.”

He retired in 1996, earning a total of 37 patents while working at 3M, as well as the 1998 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention, the company confirmed.

Silver is survived by his wife, Linda Silver; his daughter, Jennifer Silver; and two grandchildren, Zachary and Zoë. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Allison Anderson, in 2017.

Silver’s family has requested that in lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Camp Invention, a STEM summer program for grades K-6.