Spencer Ferguson Silver III was born in San Antonio on February 6, 1941. His father, Spencer Jr., was an accountant. His mother, Bernice (Wendt) Silver, was a secretary.
Spencer was a teenager in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into orbit.
“His science teacher told the class, ‘You will all be engineers,” his wife said in a telephone interview.
Dr. Silver didn’t choose engineering or astrophysics. Instead, he graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, four years later. There he met Linda Martin, a student who worked part-time in the chemistry department. They married in 1965.
He soon joined 3M as a senior chemist working on pressure sensitive adhesives. During his 30 years with the company, he rose to the rank of business scientist. And while he was working on other projects with branch block copolymers and immunodiagnostics, none was part of popular hits like Post-it Notes.
The pairing of Dr. Silver’s glue and Mr. Fry’s handcrafted glue notes were a hit with 3M secretaries. But 3M managers weren’t so sure.
A test release from Press’ n Peel, as the product was called, in 1977 in four cities – Denver; Tulsa, Okla .; Tampa, Fla; and Richmond, Virginia – flopped with consumers unsure of the idea of repositionable paper squares. However, the next year 3M had more success when it flooded offices in Boise, Idaho with free samples. 90 percent of recipients said they would buy it.