Go Ahead--Put Your Feet on the Furniture!
Patsy Sherman was one of the few women chemists to work for a major corporation when she was hired by 3M in 1952. In her presentation on March 12, 1997 to students from the Ormond Stone Middle School, Centreville, Va., and the Drew Freeman Science and Math Middle School of Suitland, Md., she explained that being an inventor does not require a lot of money or education, nor is it a matter of age or sex. What is important is to have creative, original ideas and to pursue them.
Before describing her own patented discoveries, Sherman recounted stories of inventors who were inquiring and perceptive, keenly observant, and persistent in carrying out new ideas. She herself demonstrated all of these qualities in her invention of Scotchgard®, the popular rain and stain repellent for textiles.
In 1952, fluoro-chemicals were not well understood, and she was eager to find applications for them. Still, the idea for Scotchgard® came about by accident: one day, when a fluorochemical-latex emulsion spilled on someone's sneakers, Sherman and her colleagues discovered there was no way to remove the substance. It repelled solvents and water. They suddenly understood the potential of this mixture for the protection of fabrics. After much experimentation and testing, Sherman, with her colleague Sam Smith and 3M, patented Scotchgard® and over a dozen other inventions.
After Sherman's talk, the students experimented with Scotchgard®, observing the different qualities of treated or untreated materials. Patsy Sherman reminded them that observation is key to invention: "Keep your eyes and mind open," she said, "and don't ignore something that doesn't come out the way you expect it to. Just keep looking at the world with inventor's eyes!"
Teachers, explore the history of women inventors further with
your students with our "She's Got It: Women Inventors and Their Inspirations"
All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 3 March 2005.