The humble roll of Sellotape is a staple in every kitchen’s miscellaneous drawer, one of those everyday items we simply take for granted. When you stop to think about it, it’s actually rather ingenious.

It took a college dropout to think of it. Richard Gurley Drew, born in Minnesota on June 22, 1899, took just one year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota before dropping out.

At the age of 22, he was hired by a sandpaper manufacturer. In the early 1920s, while testing sandpaper samples at an auto body shop, something sparked his attention. The two-tone paintjobs for cars so popular at the time were a real hassle to execute.

This was because there was no efficient way to get a clean divide between the paint colours. The workers would use butcher’s paper stuck to the car with adhesive so strong that it would leave behind a sticky residue. Drew realised a gentler pressure adhesive that still sealed well enough to protect against bleed would be ideal.

Richard Gurley Drew’s patent for clear adhesive tape was filed in May 1928 and awarded in May 1930.


He began experimenting with crepe paper for flexibility, coupled with the adhesive the company used for sandpaper. In 1925, Drew’s masking tape, the first paper-backed, pressure adhesive tape, hit the market. This came to be known as Scotch Brand Masking Tape, after a worker at the auto body shop where the tape was tested became frustrated that there was too little adhesive on it.

“Take this back to your Scotch bosses,” he allegedly said, “and tell them to put more adhesive on it.” At the time, Scottish people were thought to be stingy, and “Scotch” was used as a pejorative, but somehow it stuck.

Drew continued experimenting, and in 1930 his waterproof transparent cellulose tape arrived, called Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape. This was, according to 3M, a world first. The two products proved so popular that, in 1943, the company gave him directorship of the brand new Products Fabrication Laboratory.

Here, he and his team invented reflective sheeting to improve road signs, breathable surgical tapes, foam tapes, face masks, electrical insulation and other adhesive experiments. By the time he retired in 1962, Drew was listed as an inventor or co-inventor on over 30 US patents.

He died in December of 1980, and in 2007 was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Richard Gurley Drew, the man who invented sticky tape – CNET