The Scots did not invent Scotch tape. But their reputation for thriftiness did inspire the name of this amazing product. Two-tone cars were the in thing way back in the 1920s and car manufacturers were faced with the problem of how to cut clean, crisp lines between the colours. Before spraying on the paint, they would mask one side of the line with newspaper to create a sharp, straight edge. This worked well, except for the fact that it was hard to remove the glued-on newspaper after the job was done. At the time, 3M was selling sandpaper to car manufacturers, and the company’s salespeople heard about the problems the manufacturers were encountering in their paint shops. A great potential market beckoned for a sticky tape that peeled off easily. A 3M chemist named Richard G. Drew rose to the challenge of developing such a product. Rubber cement, he knew, had the necessary properties: it was sticky, yet one could peel it off a surface fairly easily. Drew managed to coat one side of a paper strip with the material, and he was satisfied to see that by applying a little pressure, he could make the paper adhere to a surface; with equal ease, he could remove it. He figured that 3M could produce the tape cheaply, especially if they only applied the glue to the edges of the paper strip—no need to waste glue.
The car painters thought the newfangled tape was a great idea—that is, until they started to use it. There wasn’t enough glue to hold the tape firmly in place, and the 3M tape salesmen were unceremoniously told to take the tape back to their bosses and tell them to be more generous with the adhesive next time. The 3M Company quickly fixed the problem, but the stigma of the failed first attempt lingered. The car painters took to calling the improved product Scotch tape, and 3M was stuck with the name. Wisely, they decided that if you can’t beat’ em, join’ em and went on to develop a whole line of Scotch tapes. When they got around to applying glue to clear cellophane, translucent Scotch tape was born. Today, over four hundred different varieties of pressure-sensitive tape are available. Manufacturers employ various glues, but most of these fall into the acrylic family of polymers. They are not designed to be removed as easily as masking tape, and they adhere strongly because they produce numerous microscopic suction cups when pressed on a surface.
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