Our desks are littered with office supplies. Each fills an important niche—the correction tape, the range of ballpoint pens, the stapler, the paper clips. We use them without thinking about the little bits of genius behind each.
Fortunately, James Ward has taken notice. Ward, cofounder of the Stationery Club and the Boring Conference, explores the “curious tales of invention, accidental genius, and stationery obsession” in his new book The Perfection of the Paper Clip.
Here are a few fun facts:
- The inventor of Liquid Paper was a not-very-good typist named Bette Nesmith Graham. After watching a sign painter paint over his mistakes, she decided the same should be possible on paper. (Bonus fun fact: her son is Michael Nesmith of the Monkees!)
- The Post-It note was the result of a glue research mishap. While working for 3M, Spencer Silver was trying to invent a very strong glue but accidentally created the opposite. While this isn’t great for a glue company, it turned out to be perfect for us manic list makers. Silver’s colleague, Art Fry recognized the possibility of genius after struggling to keep slips of paper in his hymnal. The power of Silver and Fry combined, and the Post-It was born.
- The most common type of paper clip is known as the Gem, named not for or by the person who invented it but for the company that marketed it: Gem Manufacturing Limited. In fact, no one is quite sure who to thank for the Gem paper clip. Many assume it was a Norwegian patent clerk named Johann Vaaler, and there is even a giant paper clip sculpture in Sandvika, Norway. Unfortunately, the sculpture features a Gem paperclip, and not the impractical version Vaaler patented, which is lacking a loop. It turns out that extra loop is what causes the torsion balance that makes a Gem work.
So, next time you look around your desk, know you are surrounded by good ideas and happy accidents!