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3M Company mining to sandpaper and beyond

Updated on April 10, 2015
Antigue Scotch tape package
Antigue Scotch tape package | Source

About thirty years ago I was out of work and attended some meetings on the subject of techniques for finding work. There was a deep recession at the time and unemployment was high. Many women were getting into the job market and the baby boom population was graduating from college. We had discussions and there were guest speakers from industry to give us tips. One such speaker was a personnel representative from 3M Corporation. We were in St. Paul, Minnesota where 3M has its corporate headquarters and even back then it was a major company with a large campus complex of buildings.

She related some amusing stories and some practical advice. Most important is to do some research on the company you interview with. Back then the company name was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, thus 3M was its nickname. She said that often if she asked an applicant why they wanted to work for her company they would reply that they were always interested in mining. I might add that Minnesota was a state with a lot of mining, especially Iron ore back then. However, 3M was not one of the companies doing iron mining. In fact, as she pointed out, it had not been involved with mining for at least 30 years. In fact, that was only in its early days. In addition, its mining days were not very successful. Another thing she said was when interviewing applicants for sales jobs they would often say they wanted to be in sales because they liked people. Again, a bad response. Salesmen, she told us, should know how to like their own company because they spend a lot of time alone. At least they did back then. They would spend long hours driving and then sign into a motel. Maybe after that they might have to drive several miles to get a meal or a cup of coffee. Not too much socializing.

I thought this woman had some interesting insights about applicants and she defied some occupational stereotypes. Along the way we learned something about her company. Like the people in the room 3M had its share of failures and successes in its early days.


I forget where I heard it, but sand was the start of 3M’s road to where it is today. As I recall the properties they were planning to mine did not have much to justify mining. It appears there was nothing but sand. There is an old saying that “If someone hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” In this case if you’re stuck with a bunch of sand, make sandpaper. That is essentially what they did. Someone came up with the idea of affixing the sand to paper. For this they had to develop an appropriate adhesive. That was the start of more 3M products. The company went on to invent more adhesives and tape.

William L. McKnight

One of the most important figures in the success of 3M was William L. McKnight. Joseph and Cornelia McKnight went to South Dakota in the year of 1880 to homestead some land. William was the third child. When he got older he attended the Duluth Business University and when he graduated he went to work for what is now 3M in 1907 as an assistant bookkeeper.

McKnight was an astute individual and he soon realized the company he had joined was having financial difficulties. He suggested ideas for better products and financial savings. This led to his being promoted to the position of cost accountant. After that he was appointed to oversee the Chicago office of the company. By 1914 he became 3M’s General Manager and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, the company headquarters. He was 29 years old when he became the company’s vice-president. When the company president fell ill McKnight virtually ran the company. In 1929 he became the company’s president.

3M successes

The founding of 3M dates back to 1902 in Two Harbors, Minnesota, a town on Lake Superior. According to the company website five business men had the intention of mining a mineral deposit for grinding-wheel abrasives. This didn’t pan out and they moved to Duluth, Minnesota to work on sandpaper products.

After years of struggle the company paid its first dividend in 1916.

However, over the years the accomplishment have been impressive and contributed many useful, if not always glamorous products to the public. Some of these are:

· Waterproof sandpaper in the 1920s

· Masking tape, invented by Richard G. Drew, a lab assistant.

· Scotch® cellophane tapes.

· World War II brought 3M into defense materials. That led to things like Scotchlite™ Reflective Sheeting for highway markings. They also got into magnetic sound recording tape and filament adhesive tape. They also got involved with graphic arts with offset printing plates in this period of the 1940s.

· 1950’s brought them to introducing the Thermo-Fax™ copy process. And several other products.

· In the 1960’s dry-silver microfilm was introduced. In addition they introduced photographic products, carbonless papers, overhead projection systems and the health care business of medical and dental products.

· This Minnesota based company continues to contribute products and ideas to the market.


In my opinion, the attribute of success and failure seem to hold true whether for an individual or an organization. Many people face failure several times in their life and finally find whatever it is that spells success for them. This same thing has happened in the lifespan of 3M. It started out on the wrong track and was headed in the wrong direction. By reevaluating their position they turned the company onto the path to being successful. In the case of this company a smart manager led the company to major standing in several innovative projects and products. However, like many individuals looking for the right place in life they made it only after some failures and setbacks but by constantly being open to new ideas and creative management. What people like McKnight did at 3M individuals have to do with their own lives.

Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Susan, your son is lucky to have a wise mother. When I was looking for work, I got the advice to know about the company I was applying with. However, nobody told me how to find that out. There was no internet back then. If a person went through an employment agency, he or she might go directly over to the company. One such company for me was 3M. I probably would have loved the job, but I never had a chance to find out. Thanks for commenting.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This was a very interesting hub to read on the history of 3M. This past week my son applied for a job at a company where I'd worked 20 years ago. I filled him in with all the background of the company so that he'd be prepared on the interview. He got hired :) I believe that being prepared for an interview does really help a lot.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Two things always caught my imagination about 3M. the first is the unlikely getting their real start in something they had not planned on, namely;sandpaper, which led to development of adhesives. Second was a guy fresh out of business school ending up a major figure in the companies success. Thanks for the vote.

    • beingwell profile image


      6 years ago from Bangkok

      It's a very inspiring story. Voted this hub up! I think what's important is how we, as individuals see ourselves. Success or failures comes according to how we envision ourselves to be. Always strive for a better tomorrow; and hope for the best results.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      vocalcoach, I never worked for 3M but everyone I knew that did work for them seemed happy with their jobs. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thanks for this excellent history on 3M Company.

      Years ago, I worked for 3M in Livermore, California. I was the secretary for the department that was involved with secret services for military. I loved my job. Thanks for the memories! Up and sharing.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Lipnancy, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      6 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Very interesting read about a company that keeps recreating itself.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      the girls, The biographical book about 3M was a book I found a long time ago. Many corporations have histories written and they are, I think, mostly distributed to people in the company or interested parties. There might be some free lance opportunities in such books. Anyhow I don't think they are published in large quantities, so they would not likely show up on amazon.. Since you mentioned it, I did change the products on the Amazon offerings and a Biography of McKnight showed up. Also a DVD of the company.

      Thanks for reading the hub and sharing.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy,

      I think we all grew up with certain local companies which were household words, so to speak. 3M was something of a force in St. Paul. Minneapolis had Honeywell, General Mills. I did interview with 3M once when I was pretty much just out of college and I totally blew the interview. They had one high rise building as headquarters at that time. Now it is a large complex of buildings.

      Thanks for commenting sharing and tweeting.

    • the girls profile image

      Theresa Ventu 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I am impressed with your profound knowledge of who started 3M's success. I don't see any biography book in your hub but products.

      William L. McKnight and the personnel representative-speaker lady shared something in common. They truly cared for the company, not just their paycheck.

      Sharing and Voted up

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      This is an interesting hub on several levels. Being open to change with regard to jobs and knowing how best to interview is good advice. The history of 3M and all of the changes they have made and the many useful products that have come from it is also interesting. I had no idea that they made so many different types of products. Up votes + sharing and tweeting. I really enjoyed reading this!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting, drjb. One thing I did learn from research is that 3M is no longer known a Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. Too bad, really. I did interview with them once, a lifetime ago. Needless to say, I did not do well in the interview. In those days we learned about how to interview and prepare resumes by trial and error. I mostly made errors.Much of this hub comes from memory. 3M was an important local company, ST. Paul has a McKnight Blvd. I don't recall what happened to it, but I used to have a company biography book about this company.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      That was a very good point you made, Don, about doing research beforehand for any company you are interested in working for or plan to interview with. 3M as you pointed out didn't make its fortune from mining but from Scotch cellophane tape among other things. Thanks for this fascinating account. You obviously did your research beforehand.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Glad to hear that you found employment. I know what it is like to be out of work for a long time. I once lived near the 3M campus at one time. It was like living in a company town as almost everyone seemed to work for them. Thanks for commetning hope the job works out well for you.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      6 years ago

      Extremely interesting. Of course I had heard of 3M but never gave the name any thought. The points you made, about being able to change. As you know I have been unemployed for 22 months. I have just been hired by Seans. I will not make the money I use to make, but I will make some, have access to insurance and maybe, even at my age have an opportunity for some advancement. I was willing to change, just took be a while to find company that would give me a chance.


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