By Chuck Ross
TVWeek has spoken to Arthur Fry, the retired 3M employee who is the co-inventor of the Post-it, and his history of the Post-it is in direct contradiction to the written statement made Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, by “Million Dollar Money Drop” executive producer Jeff Apploff that Post-its were first sold in 1980 and before that were only given away for free.
Apploff’s statement, according to Fox News’ Fox411 blog, was: “The integrity of the questions and answers on our show are our No. 1 priority. In this case, our research team spoke directly with 3M, and they confirmed that although they had given out free samples in test markets in 1977 and 1978, it wasn’t until 1980 that Post-its were sold in stores. ‘Million Dollar Money Drop’ stands behind the answer that was revealed on the show.”
Apploff’s statement was in response to a major brouhaha about the game show involving whether or not Post-its were sold before 1980. A couple said they were, and lost $800,000 when told that was the wrong answer.
However, according to Fry, that’s not true. And, in fact, he has proof beyond just his memory. There have been a number of other accounts, including an earlier interview with Fry, that Post-its, under the name “Press & Peel,” were test-marketed in 1977. But it’s unclear from those accounts whether or not the product was sold in those markets or given away for free, as Apploff claims.
Fry is unequivocal about that. He tells TVWeek, “In 1977 we went to four markets. Richmond, Virginia; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tampa, Florida; and Denver, Colorado. Salesmen in each market sold them and then they were sold to the public. We offered two sizes. The three-by-fives were a dollar. And the ones that were one and a half inch by two were 35 cents. That’s to the public. We sold them at wholesale. It was a 50 percent mark-up and then 10 percent for the distributors.”
Later Fry told TVWeek, “Could you hold on a minute? I have a framed copy of the first order. I’ll go get it and read it to you.”
When Fry returned to the phone he said, "May 26, 1977, in Denver." The order was to Kistler and Quill. According to the Rocky Mountain News of April 27, 1996, “The W.H. Kistler Stationery Co. was renowned through the Western states as a supplier of high-quality stationery and office supplies.” The story was written on the occasion of the company’s closing after 123 years in business.
Since sales in the test markets did not go well, 3M was not going to go ahead with the product, Fry said. He then convinced them to do another test–in 1978, he says, in Boise, Idaho. In that test the product was indeed given away, ensuring that lots and lots of people would try it. They did, and liked it.
Now Fry had shown 3M that perhaps the product could be successful.
Next, a slow roll-out of again sellling Post-its was planned, Fry said. “We started that in 1979 in the Western states–California, Oregon and Washington.” He said he wasn’t absolutely sure of the month, but he thought it was in April. Fry said some distributors on the East Coast started selling Post-its in 1979 as well. “It took off so well that we did a major national roll-out in United States and Canada in 1980,” Fry said.
As recounted by Fox411, here are the details of the controversy:
On Monday night’s episode of the show, a couple lost $800,000 when they answered a question about which item was sold in stores first: the Macintosh computer, the Sony Walkman or Post-it Notes.
Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayi bet their money on Post-its, but were told they lost $800,000 by host Kevin Pollack, who said the answer was incorrect. While Mayi initially argued it was the Walkman, which was the correct answer according to producers, Okoye convinced her to go with the Post-it notes answer.
Okoye was moved to tears when he was told he had given the wrong answer.
But on Wednesday, the website Gawker.com refuted claims that the Post-it answer was incorrect. The website linked to the Post-it Facebook page, which said Post-it Notes didn’t go on sale nationally until 1980, but were market tested in four cities back in 1977.
On the show, when the apparent correct answer was revealed to be the Sony Walkman, the show said the Walkman was first sold in 1979.
However, any reading of Fry’s chronology of the Post-it shows that at the least a major sales push for the product also took place in 1979, and that the product was indeed sold to the public in 1977.#
UPDATE: More than two hours after we published this story, on Dec.. 23, 2010, Endemol USA released a second statement, again from “Million Dollar Money Drop” executive producer Jeff Apploff: “Unfortunately, the information our research department originally obtained from 3M regarding when Post-it notes were first sold was incomplete. As a result of new information we have received from 3M, we feel it is only fair to give our contestants, Gabe and Brittany, another shot to play ‘Million Dollar Money Drop’ even though this question was not the deciding question in their game. The revised information regarding the Post-it is as follows: the product was originally tested for sale in four cities under the name ‘Press ‘N Peel’ in 1977, sold as ‘Post-its’ in 1979 when the rollout introduction began and sold nationwide in 1980. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the viewers who brought this to our attention, and we’re thrilled to give Gabe and Brittany the opportunity to return to play the game."