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Innovators through history: Richard G. Drew

To mark the launch of the NZ Innovators Awards for 2012, we're celebrating a series of vaunted innovators and inventors throughout time.

Scotch tapeWho: Richard G. Drew

What: Scotch tape (Sellotape) – a small invention with many, many uses. Drew invented the original Scotch-brand masking tape after watching auto painters at the 3M factory he worked at in Minnesota, who were having trouble making clean dividing lines on their paint jobs. According to legend, the name for the brand “Scotch” came from one of its first trial runs. The tape only had adhesive on the edges, and when it fell off the car one painter reportedly told Drew, “take this tape back to those scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!” In this case, ‘scotch’ meant stingy. But Drew didn’t let that deter him, and soon enough Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape was born.

When: 1925

Impact: The first scotch tape was actually intended for sealing cellophane food wrap, but the public, who were suffering through the Great Depression, found numerous other uses for the magical tape.  Scotch tape became used for everything from sealing packages, mending clothes, and even preserving eggs that had cracked. Safe to assume that the original Scotch tape was a bona fide hit.

Power, Fame and Money: The success of the tape propelled the 3M company (which stood for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) from a small company with a single product line in sandpaper, to an international corporation that’s still going strong today.

Legacy: Drew spent 40 years with the 3M company, becoming the head of their innovative Product Fabrication Laboratory (or the ‘Pro-Fab Lab’, as it was called) and was known for being a generous and valued mentor. He was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2007 his invention was honoured as a ‘National Historic Chemical Landmark’ by the American Chemical Society. Today, scotch tape has become a permanent fixture – if you’ve broken it, then odds are scotch tape will probably fix it.

Got a great idea just begging to be made into reality? Enter yourself or someone you know into the NZ Innovators Awards. Entries open now.