Digital devices may take more of our time and attention than ever before, but evidence shows that we still continue to use many traditional office products.
Why is the ‘paperless’ office yet to materialise? A few simple examples might be that when we need to jot down notes during a phone call or at a meeting, leave a message on a colleague’s desk or send a thank you, the classic products are the easiest and often most appropriate.
In celebration of those products that we still keep to this day – and a few a little more niche – here (courtesy of James Ward, author of Adventures in Stationery and ideafinder.com) are 7 of the eureka moments that led to these quintessential office supplies:
1. Wasps chewing wood fibre to paper
Paper was made from cloth until the 18th century when French scientist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur noticed wasps chewing wood fibre into a kind of pulp that he realised would make good paper. From that time on paper was produced from wood, although bank notes continue to be made from cloth.
2. Marbles in puddles to ball pens
Children rolling their marbles through a puddle leaving a line of water behind them gave Hungarian journalist and hypnotist Laszlo Biro the inspiration for the ball pen. His journalism experience provided the rest of the solution when he saw the cylindrical printing presses applying ink to paper in a newspaper’s print room.
3. Oak trees and farmers to pencils
The humble pencil came about after farmers in Keswick started using a black substance found underneath an uprooted oak tree for marking their sheep. To stop what was eventually called graphite from getting onto their fingers, they encased it in wool. Later it was surrounded by wood to create the pencil.
4. Artists at work to correction fluid
Watching artists painting over their mistakes in a window display inspired secretary Bette Nesmith Graham to mix her own paint to cover up her typing mistakes. Mother of Mike Nesmith, of US 60s band The Monkees, Bette started producing bottles of correction fluid from her garage at home.
She eventually sold the business to Gillette for $47.5 million and left half to her son Mike who used it to set up an early incarnation of MTV on US television.
5. Choir notes and weak glue to sticky notes
The perennially popular post it note was the brain child of 3M’s Spence Silver, who mistakenly produced a ‘too-weak’ glue in his work for the company’s adhesives division. His colleague Art Fry sang in a choir and wanted to find a way to keep bookmarks in place in his hymn book. Working together they created what is now the very familiar and user friendly sticky note.
6. A cover for insulation to sticky tape
By trying to find a waterproof covering for the insulation batts in railroad refrigerator cars, 3M researcher Dick Drew was inspired to coat cellophane with adhesive to see if that would stick. Although it didn’t resolve that particular problem, it did eventually lead to Sellotape and the rest is history.
7. Stopping typewriter jams to the QWERTY keyboard
The realisation that the most popular keys on a keyboard should be separated to make typing easier led Christopher Sholes and Amos Densmore to create the QWERTY keyboard in 1875. By placing the most frequently used characters, such as t and h or s and h, apart, the QWERTY keyboard tackled the problem of the metal arms of neighbouring characters or letters on typewriters jamming if they were pressed at the same time or in quick succession.
So the QWERTY layout that we use to this day derives from the now virtually defunct problem of typewriter keys jamming.