In 2013, the world demand for pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes was approximately 39.3 billion square meters. Global demand is projected to increase to 53.4 billion square meters by 2020. To provide some perspective on these numbers, 39.3 billion square meters equals more than 15,000 square miles of tape – or enough to cover the entire state of New Jersey twice! The U.S. demand for pressure-sensitive tapes is currently about 9.8 billion square meters per year, or approximately 25 percent of the global total. That’s enough to cover the state of Delaware twice over. Though carton-sealing tape is responsible for the majority of the global demand for pressure-sensitive tape, masking tape sales driven by construction and automotive construction, particularly in Asia, account for some of the growth as well. Likewise, increasing access to healthcare around the world means a surge in medical tape sales.
So where did this big industry get its start? Who invented pressure-sensitive adhesives? To answer those questions, we have to travel back more than 160 years.
In 1845, an American surgeon named Dr. Horace Day made the first crude surgical tape by combining India rubber, pine gum, turpentine, litharge (a yellow lead oxide), and turpentine extract of cayenne pepper and applying that mixture to strips of fabric. He developed the first “rubber-based” adhesive and used it in his practice as a surgical plaster applied over wound dressings to hold them in place.
Larger scale manufacturing of similar medical tapes began in 1873 with Robert Wood Johnson, a future founder of Johnson & Johnson, and George Seaburg in East Orange, New Jersey. Their company, Seabury & Johnson, was a well-respected medical business known for the quality of its medicated plasters. In 1885, Johnson resigned from the business and sold his half-interest to Seabury, leaving him free to set up Johnson & Johnson with his brothers Edward Mead and James Wood Johnson in 1886. In 1921, one of the company’s cotton buyers, Earle Dickson, noticed that gauze held in place with surgical tape kept falling off his wife Josephine’s fingers after she cut them in the kitchen. So he fixed a piece of gauze to some cloth-backed tape, and the first Band-Aid® was soon being mass-produced by Johnson & Johnson.
It took almost 75 years from Dr. Day’s initial crude tape until the early 1920s for the first industrial tape application to appear. That application was electrical tape used to prevent wires from shorting out. This adhesive was more of a cohesive film than the PVC electrical tape we’re familiar with today.
The second major industrial tape application was the result of the growth of the American automobile industry in the 1920s. Two-toned automobiles were becoming popular and automakers needed a way to produce clean, sharp paint lines while using the new automatic paint spray gun. They started using the surgical tape that was available, but the paint wicked through the cloth backing and caused defective paint jobs.
Richard Drew, an engineer at Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) happened to be at a local body shop testing its WetorDry® brand sandpaper in 1925 and noticed the workers were struggling to achieve clean paint lines. So he went back to his lab and created a two-inch wide crimp backed paper tape that became the first “masking tape” for painting. The brand name Scotch came about when Drew was testing some of his paint masking tape and the auto body painter yelled at him to “take that tape back to your ‘Scotch’ (indicating that they were being cheap) bosses and tell them to put some more adhesive on it!” The name was soon applied to the whole product line.
Richard Drew additionally founded the first tape laboratory at 3M in 1926 and went on to create a clear, waterproof tape to seal cellophane food wrap for bakers and grocers. This cellulose tape became what we know more commonly as Scotch Tape. Consumers soon learned they could repair torn book pages, documents and even ripped window shades with this new product.
By the World War II era, Johnson & Johnson had developed duct tape to seal canisters and repair equipment for the military. The tape was basically a polyethylene coated cloth tape with good “quick stick” properties that made it easy to use in the field for emergency repairs. The world never looked back and now duct tape can be found in almost any home or toolbox.
The tape products designed by Shurtape can trace their origins to these early pioneers, but they have likewise evolved. For example, the adhesives on our double coated-film tapes, which are used for gasket fabrication, are a synthetic version of the same India rubber used by Dr. Day in 1845. And the acrylic adhesives on our high-performance bonding and sealing tapes are more sophisticated than their predecessors. They rely on the reaction of various acrylic monomers in solvent. They can do amazing things such as holding large pieces of glass to metal extrusions on large buildings without the need for mechanical fasteners.
Thanks to the hard work of many scientific minds, people all over the world today can enjoy the many benefits tape provides to get them out of sticky situations!