Spencer Ferguson Silver III was born on Feb. 6, 1941, in San Antonio. 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 sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into Earth’s orbit.
“His science teacher told the class, ‘All you guys are going to be engineers,’” his wife said in a phone interview.
Dr. Silver did not choose engineering or astrophysics. Instead, he graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, four years later. While there, he met Linda Martin, an undergraduate who was working 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 at the company, he rose to the rank of corporate scientist. And while he worked on other projects involving branch block copolymers and immuno-diagnostics, none were part of popular successes like Post-it Notes.
The mating of Dr. Silver’s adhesive and Mr. Fry’s handmade adhesive notes was a hit with 3M secretaries. But 3M executives weren’t so sure.
A test release in 1977 of Press ‘n Peel, as the product was called, in four cities — Denver; Tulsa, Okla.; Tampa, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. — flopped with consumers, who were uncertain about the idea of repositionable paper squares. But the next year, 3M had greater success when it flooded offices in Boise, Idaho, with free samples; 90 percent of the recipients said they would buy them.