Masking Tape’s Life Story

Today, when it comes to adhesive label tapes, printable dot stickers, and colored printable label sheets, consumers have a wide variety of options. Today, there are a number of different kinds of removable colored tape and stickers and many people never stop to ponder how they all came to be. It all started with masking tape. And that story began in the 1920s in Minnesota.

Dick Drew was a lab technician. He had a passion for solving problems. When he was working for 3M, they were in the business of making and distributing abrasives. He had the idea that he wanted to test a batch of sandpaper that was new. He took some of it to a bar body shop that was in St. Paul.

There were a few workers in the shop when Drew arrived. They were trying to work through a problem they had with some of the vehicles they were working. The popular style of the day was cars with two colors. This was a hard effect to achieve. Without removable colored tape, they had to do something more complicated to get the look they wanted. Before painting the vehicles, they would use butcher paper they affixed to the body of the car or truck with a heavy adhesive material. It took a lot of effort to remove it and that and often ruined some of the work they had done. This was annoying to them and expensive for the customer.

As Drew observed what they were going through, he saw that this may have been a good chance to increase the sales of his new sandpaper. He also thought he might have a better solution to the problems the auto body shop was experiencing. A better tape might help more than additional sandpaper.

It occurred to him that a tape with a less aggressive form of adhesive might do the trick. Thinking of the materials already in stock at 3M, Drew thought he might be able to make such a tape. The very sandpaper he had with him had three elements. It was comprised of an adhesive, a backing, and the abrasive substance.

Drew left the auto body shop and returned to his lab. There he set to work on making a tape that would eventually become removable colored tape. He started working on some kind of tape that would help the workers at the car shop. This was a long and tedious process. He had a hard time developing the right adhesive material. Additionally, he had a hard time getting the right backing for the tape. During this, William McKnight, the president of the company, told Drew to quit working on his new kind of tape and get back to the work of making sandpaper better.

To placate his boss, Drew said he would get back to the business of sandpaper but only for one day. In that time, he worked out other ways to deal with the tape issue and was back at it. He ignored his boss entirely and went on with his newfound passion. Despite the objections, McKnight brought up, after a period of inspired work, Drew figured it out.

When Drew realized he had the right combination to create a tape that would be better for the auto workers. He went to his boss with his discovery and got the green light and the funding he needed to move forward. He got a new machine to make paper that he would use to make the tape he was working on.

While McKnight never gave Drew everything he needed to create the tape that would later become removable colored tape, Drew was creative in a number of ways and that included getting the tools he needed to get his projects to move forward.

In a number of ways, Drew’s genius was not limited to making new products for 3M. He changed the way managers are viewed. He pushed the boundaries of how people could get what they needed to do the best work for their employers. Drew’s work led to the development of masking tape, scotch tape, and customized stickers and labels. It also paved the way for creative budgetary practices. His example also says a lot about the value of persistence in life.

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