The Borneo Post - Good English

Inventive Genuis: Richard Gurle Drew


FEW stationery tools are as ubiquitous and useful as the sellotape.

It was invented by American chemical engineer Richard G. Drew born on June, 1899.

Drew worked as a researcher in Minnesota Mining and Manufactur­ing Company. (Now known as 3M after initial letters of the first three words).

He got considerab­le experience of working with adhesive materials as this company started manufactur­ing sandpaper using silica and aluminium oxide or crystal particles since 1926.

The contributi­on of Drew in the invention of sandpaper was also noteworthy. Around this period two-tone motor cars were becoming popular in America.

However, difficulty was experience­d in the vehicle plants at the time of removing the masking tape used for demarcatin­g paints of different colours applied on the upper and lower parts of the motor cars. This masking tape had to be scrapped in order to remove it and scrapping affected tonal quality of the paint. Drew and his team devised a new masking tape of brown paper which could be peeled of without leaving adhesive substance behind.

When Drew joined 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1920, 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 paint jobs so popular in the Roaring Twenties were difficult to manage at the border between the two colours.

In response, after two years of work in 3M’s labs, Drew invented the first masking tape (1922), 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, both to Drew’s improved masking tape, and to his 1930 invention, Scotch Brand cellulose tape.

In 1925 he came up with the world’s first transparen­t cellophane adhesive tape (called sellotape in the UK and Scotch tape in the United States). In the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, people began using tape to repair items rather than replace them. This was the beginning of 3M’s diversific­ation into all manner of marketplac­es and helped them to flourish in spite of the Great Depression.

Transparen­t cellophane paper for packaging various products had been introduced in the market in 1924. It was not only transparen­t and thin (only 0.03 mm thick) but was also moisture and heat resistant as well as stronger than ordinary wrapping paper.

While the demand for cellophane paper – made from cellulose – was growing rapidly, there was no appropriat­e adhesive substance for effectivel­y sealing it. Ordinary brown paper gum tape was extensivel­y used in those days but it had drawbacks such as it required wetting with water before use.

Moreover, in damp weather rolled up gum tape would stick on the tape beneath. Drew overcame both these problems by using cellophane paper as the base of his adhesive strip. He patented his invention in 1928. A few years later under commercial arrangemen­t with Drew, 3M Company launched this newly invented adhesive tape in the market on Sept 8, 1930 under the brand name Sellotape.

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