Scotch Tape Was Named To Make Fun Of The Scottish
“Scotch tape” refers to a couple different things. Most of the time, it refers to clear adhesive tape, made of cellophane, otherwise known as cello tape. Confusingly, the same company has made cassette tapes under the Scotch brand, so these are called Scotch tape too.
Originally, Scotch tape referred to masking tape. Masking tape and cello tape happen to have been invented by the same person, engineer and college dropout Richard Drew.
Drew invented masking tape to help with masking, of course. That word here refers not to the process of wrapping your entire face with tape to block germs from passing through but to covering up part of something you’re painting, limiting where the paint falls. If you don’t do a lot of painting yourself, you might still know the term from “clipping masks” in digital art.
Drew worked for 3M, then a sandpaper company, delivering paper to auto companies that masked when they painted cars. At the time, people just stuck newspaper on cars to mask them, which didn’t work well for anyone. Drew came up with the idea of a specialized material, crepe paper backed by glue and glycerin.
His company wasn’t a huge fan of the idea at first, since it wasn’t their job to make tape, and it wasn’t Drew’s job to invent stuff. One exec, William McKnight, demanded that he stop wasting company time on the project. Coworkers who saw his prototype called it Scotch tape because it looked cheap, just like the Scottish. If you're unfamiliar with that stereotype, well, good. Time marches on.
Drew did figure out how to make his masking tape work right, and then he invented cello tape the very same year. 3M manufactured both products and made a ton of money off them. As for the skeptical exec, William McKnight, he ... became chairman of the board. But he learned his lesson and instituted a policy whereby every engineer gets to spend 15 percent of their time on their own unsupervised personal experiments. It’s a great idea. In fact, if you have an office job or work from home, we’d estimate that you spend a good deal more than 15 percent of every day on “personal experiments.”
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