Inventor of the Week Archive
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RICHARD DREW (1899-1980)
Transparent adhesive tape
Richard G. Drew invented one of the most practical items to be found in any home or office: transparent adhesive tape.
When Drew, a banjo player, joined 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1923, it was a modest manufacturer of sandpaper. While testing their new "Wetordry" sandpaper at auto shops, Drew was intrigued to learn that the two-tone auto paintjobs so popular in the Roaring Twenties were difficult to manage at the border between the two colors. In response, after two years of work in 3M's labs, Drew invented the first masking tape (1925), a two-inch-wide tan paper strip backed with a light, pressure-sensitive adhesive.
The first tape had adhesive along its edges but not in the middle. In its first trial run, it fell off the car; and the frustrated auto painter growled at Drew, "Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!" (By "Scotch," he meant "parsimonious.") The nickname stuck---to Drew's improved masking tape, and to his greatest invention, Scotch (TM) Brand Cellulose Tape (1930).
This, the world's first transparent tape, added a nearly invisible adhesive, made from rubber, oils and resins, to a coated cellophane backing. The adhesive was waterproof and withstood a wide range of temperature and humidity, because it was designed to seal cellophane food-wrap. But the public, forced by the Great Depression to be thrifty, found hundreds of uses for it at work and at home, from sealing packages to mending clothes to preserving cracked eggs.
Drew's creativity not only brought great financial success, it helped transform 3M into an R&D-driven company. His tape was helped along by the first tape dispenser (1935), and was perfected in Scotch (TM) Brand Magic (TM) Transparent Tape (1961), which never discolors or leaks, and can be written on while remaining invisible itself.
Today (especially at holiday gift-wrapping time) Richard G. Drew's transparent adhesive tape remains one of the most pervasive and practical inventions of all time.