Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Eighty-five years ago today, 3M began marketing Scotch tape.  Although Scotch tape is a registered braand name, the name has been generally applied to all transparent cellophane tape.  And it all began with a banjo player.

Banjos may actually have very little to do with tape, but Richard Drew was a 22-year-old banjo player for an "Athletic Orchestra" in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, when he spotted a job ad from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. ( I assume he applied because banjo playing just didn't pay the bills.)  Drew's application touted his banjo playing, along with the fact that he had a year of studying mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota and was currently taking a correspondence course in machine design.  Drew also mentioned that he could drive a truck.  I'm not sure which  qualification got him the job.  At the time, 3M was a small local company that produced sandpaper.

A couple of years later, Drew was at an auto repair shop testing sandpaper samples when he noticed the shop's workmen were having a difficult time with the plastic tape they were using:  the tape kept lifting paint when it was removed.  As many banjo players in the past have thought (I'm sure), Drew knew there had to be a better way --  so he set about inventing one.  It took quite a bit of work and more than a few failed attempts, while his 3M bosses first approved, then disapproved his efforts, but banjos players never give up!  By 1925, Drew had invented (and 3M marketed) MASKING TAPE!

3M began to grow and leave sandpaper in its dust.  Not one to rest on his laurels, Drew went on to invent the first transparent cellophane tape in 1930.  The rest is history.

From the 3M website:

"Practical and convenient, pressure sensitive tapes soon found applications in homes, medical facilities, construction and business settings worldwide.*  The tape protected the Goodyear blimp from corrosion.  It patched cracks in turkey eggs so that chicks could survive until hatching,  It repaired everything from fingernails to lampshades to dollar bills.  Drew's products served as a classic example of American ingenuity and an opportuniity for 3M to re-define itself as a major research and development company."

Next Thanksgiving, as you sit down to a sumptious turkey feast, thank your lucky stars that, had it not been for a banjo player, instead of turkey you may have had to put stuffing into a mere cracked egg.

* 3M is an engineering and manufacturing company.  They apparently know nothing about the Oxford comma.  Banjo players, however, surely do.

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