Adhesive tape is widely used nowadays and it’s hard to imagine a world without it. It came from very humble beginnings to what is known mow under a variety of names – PSA tape, sticky tape, pressure sensitive tape etc. It started thousands of years ago with not more than a strip of linen soaked in plaster for the first time. Now pressure sensitive adhesive tape is still a flexible strip of material, choice of which depends on intended application, but usually include cloth, paper , metal foil or plastic, coated on one or both sides with a tacky adhesive.
How it all started?
The history of adhesive tape goes back further than most people realise and embraces a huge range of applications. From tree sap to beeswax, archaeologists have discovered all different kinds of materials that have been used to craft better tools, preserve native culture and more.
There is enough evidence to suggest that earthenware pots used to be mended by adhesive substances obtained from tree sap as early as 4000 BC. 3500 years ago, adhesives were used in the creation of laminated woodwork, while 2500 years ago, they were used in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The earliest detailed scripts of adhesives, however, date back to 2000 B.C and contain simple instructions for the preparation of fish glue.
It is suggested that between 1500 – 1000 BC Egyptian hieroglyphics were laminated with the use of special glue obtained from animal adhesives. Later in 618-906 B.C. China also started to use their version of adhesive substances which they made from stag horns, ox and fish derivatives. The next period where the use of adhesives was prevalent is from 1-500 A.D. It is during this period that the Greeks and the Romans came up with the art of veneering and marquetry – technique used to bind thin layers of wood together. They used various materials to create adhesive substances including animal hides, egg whites, milk, vegetables, blood and bone matter.
It took yet long time before the very first patent for a fish glue was issued in Britain in 1750. This created space for more patents as numerous companies came up with different types of glues.
The history of adhesive tapes can be traced back to 1845. Dr. Horace Day applied a rubber adhesive to a strip of fabrics - that is how the world saw the very first invention of a surgical tape.
In 1921 a young housewife Josephone Dickson was living in New Jersey with her husband Earle who was a cotton buyer from Johnson & Johnson. Housekeeping didn't not really agree with her, so Josephine often had several cuts a burns a day. Back in the days before antibiotics, infections posed a serious risk.
So one day after getting another cut with a kitchen knife Josephone as usual covered it with surgical tape. Earle Dickson noticed that tape kept falling off and attached a piece of gauze to a cloth-backed tape and covered it with crinoline – and later famous Band-Aid from Johnson & Johnson was invented. Earle Dickson later got a Vice President position at the company.
Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson Archives
Around that time in Minnesota there was a small company producing sandpaper called Minnesota Mining company, now known as 3M. In 1923 they hired Richard Drew on a position of lab technician. At that time company was experimenting a lot with cellophane trying to create a waterproof cover.
Drew was enthusiastic and diligent, so soon the company assigned him to work in automotive shops and garages to monitor testing of their new sandpaper brand Wetordry. It didn’t take long before Drew noticed, that when a car was painted in two colours, the border line between them was almost never even. Willing to protect the painted section, workers would use a special paper to cover it, but when removed after painting, the paper went off together with the paint and it took a long time to correct defects.
Eager to solve the issue, Drew bought a tape 5 cm wide with adhesive layer along the edges. Workers gave it a try, but because adhesive layer was only at the edges, middle part of the strip soaked in paint and eventually cringed.
Next five years Drew never stopped improving adhesive tape, constantly searching for best adhesive to use, perfect backing material etc. He experimented with everything from vegetable oil to natural tree gums. They say Drew was using so much cellophane daily that the waste had to be picked up by a truck at the end of the day.
Masking tape simplified the process of painting two-coloured cars.
Finally in 1930 Drew received a patent for his adhesive tape and the first roll was sent to a one of company’s clients in Chicago.
During the Second World War in 1942, Johnson & Johnson developed first duct tape as a waterproof solution that could be used for sealing equipment and ammo boxes in the field. It was basically a cloth tape coated with polyethylene that was perfectly waterproof and easy to use.
Over the years evolution of tape continued and apart from the military, adhesive tapes found application in other industries as well, with biggest consumers in automotive industry, building and construction, shipping and packaging, aviation , electronics repair and others.