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Silver was born in San Antonio, Texas. He majored in chemistry at Arizona State University, earning a B.S. in 1962, then earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado in 1966, before taking a position as a Senior Chemist in 3M's Central Research Labs.
Silver is now named on over 20 US patents; but his most significant invention was not an immediate success. In 1968, Silver developed a high-quality but "low-tack" adhesive, made of tiny, indestructible acrylic spheres that would stick only where they were tangent to a given surface, rather than flat up against it. Spencer used the patented formula from Shiro Takemoto. As a result, the adhesive's grip was strong enough to hold papers together, but weak enough to allow the papers to be pulled apart again without being torn. More importantly, the adhesive could be used again and again.
Silver wanted to market the adhesive as a spray, or as a surface for bulletin boards on which temporary notices could be easily posted and then removed. Over the next five years, Silver tried to interest his colleagues at 3M, informally and in presentations. A marketable form of the product proved elusive however, until Arthur Fry attended one of Silver's seminars.
Fry sang in his church choir. He was frustrated with the paper bookmarks he used to mark the songs in his hymnal because they would not stay put. In a moment of insight, Fry realized that Silver's reusable adhesive would provide precisely what he needed.
Fry wrote up his idea for a reusable bookmark and presented it to his supervisors. Initially, management was skeptical, but the staff could not get enough of the samples Fry was passing around. Soon, 3M gave the invention its full support. It took another five years to perfect and design machines to manufacture the product, but on April 6, 1980, Post-it Notes were introduced nationwide in the US. Within two years, the product became very popular in the office, schools, labs, libraries and homes.
Both Silver and Fry won 3M's highest honors for research and numerous awards within the international engineering community. Silver still works at 3M, specializing in adhesives technology. In his spare time, he has also won a reputation as an accomplished painter in pastels and oils.
- "Inventor of the Week Archive: ART FRY & SPENCER SILVER". MIT. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
- "About Post-it Brand". 3M. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
- "Spencer Silver". Retrieved 2010-12-24.