The History of Scotch Tape

Scotch tape was invented by 3M engineer Richard Drew

Ball of Tape on White
Renold Zergat/ Stone/ Getty Images

Scotch tape was invented in 1930 by banjo-playing 3M engineer Richard Drew. Scotch tape was the world's first transparent adhesive tape. Drew also invented the first masking tape in 1925 -- a 2-inch-wide tan paper tape with a pressure sensitive adhesive backing.

Richard Drew - Background

In 1923, Drew joined the 3M company located in St. Paul, Minnesota. At the time, 3M only made sandpaper. Drew was product testing 3M's Wetordry brand sandpaper at a local auto body shop, when he noticed that auto painters were having a hard time making clean dividing lines on two-color paint jobs.

Richard Drew was inspired to invent the world's first masking tape in 1925, as a solution to the auto painters' dilemma.

Brandname Scotch

The brandname Scotch came about while Drew was testing his first masking tape to determine how much adhesive he needed to add. The body shop painter became frustrated with the sample masking tape and exclaimed, "Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!" The name was soon applied to the entire line of 3M tapes.

Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape was invented five years later. Made with a nearly invisible adhesive, the waterproof transparent tape was made from oils, resins and rubber; and had a coated backing.

According to 3M

Drew, a young 3M engineer, invented the first waterproof, see-through, pressure-sensitive tape, thus supplying an attractive, moisture-proof way to seal food wrap for bakers, grocers and meat packers.

Drew sent a trial shipment of the new Scotch cellulose tape to a Chicago firm specializing in package printing for bakery products. The response was, "Put this product on the market!" Shortly after, heat sealing reduced the original use of the new tape. However, Americans in a depressed economy discovered they could use the tape to mend a wide variety of things like torn pages of books and documents, broken toys, ripped window shades, even dilapidated currency.

Besides using Scotch as a prefix in its brand names (Scotchgard, Scotchlite  and Scotch-Brite), the company also used the Scotch name for its (mainly professional) audiovisual magnetic tape products, until the early 1990s when the tapes were branded solely with the 3M logo. In 1996, 3M exited the magnetic tape business, selling its assets.

John A Borden - Tape Dispenser

John A Borden, another 3M engineer, invented the first tape dispenser with a built-in cutter blade in 1932. Scotch Brand Magic Transparent Tape® was invented in 1961, an almost invisible tape that never discolored and could be written on.

Scotty McTape

Scotty McTape, a kilt-wearing cartoon boy, was the brand's mascot for two decades, first appearing in 1944. The familiar tartan design, a take on the well-known Wallace tartan, was introduced in 1945.

Other Uses

In 1953, Soviet scientists showed that triboluminescence caused by peeling a roll of an unidentified Scotch brand tape in a vacuum can produce X-rays . In 2008, American scientists performed an experiment that showed the rays can be strong enough to leave an X-ray image of a finger on photographic paper.

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