“It all started with writer’s cramp.”
When Dr. Carl S. Miller was doing research and taking hand-written notes for his doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of Minnesota, he thought there must be some rapid, simple, and inexpensive way to copy written and printed material. He joined the 3M research lab in July 1940. By 1944, he had a chance to begin developing a copy process that used artificial light to transfer dark inked areas to a special paper.
The challenge was to build a machine outfitted with special light bulbs to make the copies. A “Thermo-Fax” duplicating prototype was developed in 1948. In 1949 an official of the Central Intelligence Agency visiting 3M asked for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. Although the machine jammed and overheated, the CIA saw its potential and gave 3M its first order for a commercial model.
The first “Thermo-Fax” duplicator was a large floor model. Further research efforts led to the desk-top size “Secretary” copying machine in 1955. Both models used specially coated copy paper.
“Our copy machine and paper have become the fastest growing sales items 3M has ever placed on the market.” 3M President Herbert P. Buetow, 1956.
3M created the products and the market and was dominant in the copying field until Xerox developed a plain paper copier that eventually superseded “Thermo-Fax.”
In 1944, 3M purchased the rights for producing fluorochemicals, a term invented at 3M. The research labs began looking for uses for these compounds of carbon and fluorine.
One day in 1953, laboratory associate Joan Mullin spilled a sample on her new fabric tennis shoes and discovered that it would not come off. Eventually other researchers in the lab carried on further experiments with the compound.
Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith collaborated to develop “Scotchgard” fabric and upholstery protector. It was introduced to the textile industry in 1956, but it worked only on wool. More development followed to produce a product that would work on a wide variety of textiles, repel stains, and release soil.
The product has been reformulated many times to improve performance and to deal with health and environmental issues. “Scotchgard” remains a highly successful product with over 100 applications for commercial and retail use.