facts about the invention of
Scotchgard by Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith
contributes to a broad array of 3M's modern day products and processes. So it may be
difficult to believe that, once upon a time, 3M was all but stumped by the challenge of
how to create a successful new product from fluorochemicals.
was met by Patsy Sherman, a young chemical researcher who joined 3M in 1952. Sherman was
assigned to work on a project to develop a rubber material that would resist deterioration
from jet aircraft fuels. As is often the case with innovative breakthroughs, Sherman
failed to solve the problem assigned to her, but discovered, instead, a whole new way to
put fluorochemical compounds to use. It all began with the careful attention paid by
Sherman to a seemingly trivial accident.
|In 1953, an assistant in
Sherman's lab spilled some drops of an experimental compound on her new tennis shoes. The
assistant was merely annoyed by her inability to clean off the drops soap, alcohol
and other solvents were of no avail.
But Sherman was fascinated by the amazing
resiliency of the experimental compound. With the help of fellow 3M chemist Sam Smith,
Sherman began to conceive of an idea that seemed unthinkable at the time the
development of a fluorochemical polymer that could actually repel oil and water from
fabrics. They set to work to enhance the liquid repellency of the experimental compound,
as well as to reduce its cost.
In 1956, as a result of the joint research of Sherman and Smith, the Scotchgard
Protector was launched in the marketplace. The unarticulated need of customers for a
versatile fabric and material protector had been articulated and satisfied
at last. The broad line of successful Scotchgard brand products was under way.
And the Scotchgard brand has remained the market leader ever since though
3M has never ceased to make innovative improvements in the product line. Fittingly, it was
Smith's son, Richard following in his father's footsteps as a 3M researcher
who enhanced the environmental performance of Scotchgard brand products.
Quite literally, the discovery of the Scotchgard protector stemmed from an accident.
This led many to observe that 3M had a seeming knack of stumbling onto new products. But
as 3M executive Richard P. Carlton wryly and wisely observed, "You can't stumble if
you're not in motion."
As for Sherman, her subsequent career at 3M was one of constant innovative motion. She
eventually became manager of 3M Technical Development, and established a continuing
technical education program for 3M technical employees. She retired in 1992.
Through all her success, Sherman has retained her appreciation for the role of the
unexpected in innovation. "How many great discoveries," she once asked,
"would never have occurred were it not for accidents?"
Chemistry History from The Great Idea
A Century of Innovation
at 3M from The Great Idea
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Breakthrough Thinking at 3M
Rosabeth Moss Kanter / Hardcover - 209 pages / Harper
Business - 1997
While many managers still view creativity and originality in the workplace with
suspicion and apprehension, some of today's top corporations are parlaying these same
traits into notable long-term success.
ON THE WEB:
Patsy Sherman and the discovery of
Scotchgard Fabric Protector
- Inventor of the Week
Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith featured July 1998 for her co-invention of Scotchgard.
National Inventors Hall
of Fame-Sam Smith
Sam Smith: Born Sep 13 1927 Block and Graft Copolymers Containing Water Solvatable Polar
Groups and Fluoroaliphatic Groups (Scotchgard (TM) Textile Proctector). Patent Number
Inventors Hall of Fame-Patsy Sherman
Patsy Sherman: Born Sep 15 1930 Block and Graft Copolymers Containing Water Solvatable
Polar Groups and Fluoroaliphatic Groups (Scotchgard (TM) Textile Proctector). Patent
Surprising Discoveries - The Aftermath of an Accident
Article from before you buy.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"Anyone can become an inventor as long as they keep an open and inquiring
mind and never overlook the possible significance of an accident or apparent
failure." - Patsy Sherman tells
DID YOU KNOW:
- Sherman went on to further inventions at 3M; meanwhile,
Scotchgard itself also evolved. For example, since 1978 it has been used to coat
photographic and motion picture film: "Photogard" makes film resistant to dirt,
liquids, bacteria, static, and abrasions, while keeping the film 97% translucent and 100%
is a registered trademark of 3M. All rights reserved.
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised January, 2005.
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