Famous Women Inventors

Patsy Sherman

Invention of Scotchgard™ Stain Repellent

Patsy Sherman

As Patsy Sherman can attest, innovation is often triggered by an unexpected or seemingly trivial occurrence. Hired as a research chemist by 3M Company in 1952, Sherman became one of only a tiny handful of women in the field. She was assigned to work on fluorochemicals, where she and her colleague, Sam Smith, were charged with developing a new kind of rubber for jet aircraft fuel lines.

Instead, a seemingly inconsequential 1953 lab mishap spurred the invention of a completely different application for fluorochemicals. While Sherman and Smith were working in the lab one day, an assistant dropped a bottle of synthetic latex that Sherman had made, causing the compound to splash onto the assistant's white canvas tennis shoes. The two chemists were fascinated to find that while the substance did not change the look of the shoes, it could not be washed away by any solvents, and it repelled water, oil and other liquids.

Sherman and Smith immediately realized that they had stumbled onto an important discovery, one that could solve the problem of finding a commercially successful application for fluorochemical polymers. Their joint research over the next few years led to the development in 1956 of a versatile fabric stain repellent and material protector, Scotchgard™. The colleagues continued to explore new uses for the product throughout the 1960s, eventually expanding the Scothgard™ line to include a carpet treatment, automotive upholstery cleaner and numerous other derivations.

Together, Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith obtained 13 patents related to fluorochemical polymers and polymerization processes. Sherman was elected to the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1983, and she remained with 3M as Technical Development Manager until her retirement in 1992.

Drawing from her own experiences, Sherman encourages aspiring inventors with advice that she herself learned decades ago: "Keep your eyes and mind open, 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!"

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