Almost as soon as humans had new innovations, there was a need to repair them as they were inevitably broken. The need to seal, mount, fasten, or piece two things together was an important one. Primitive adhesives were saps and resins. Other primitive sealants included wax, mortar, tacks and nails . They were made out of a variety of materials and used for a variety of purposes. However, there was no all-purpose adhesive that could withstand the tests of time and rough conditions.
An early antecedent to duct tape was sealing wax. Sealing wax melts easily and then hardens to paper and other materials. It can be made with beeswax or resin extract and can be mixed with shellac, turpentine, chalk, plaster, or color . They were used to close letters in such a manner that tampering would be evident. Prior to this, the Romans used bitumen, a naturally occurring tar-like substance, for a similar purpose .
Among the many uses of duct tape is its ability to hang, post, or mount things to almost any surface. Before duct tape was invented, the thumbtack fulfilled many of these roles. After Edwin Moore was granted a patent in 1912 for his invention of the thumbtack, he founded the Moore Push-Pin Company . A thumbtack’s features include a short nail with a flat rounded head that can be pushed by hand into a surface. Mortar was another substance used in ancient times prior to the invention of duct tape. It was a paste made out of a variety of natural substances and used for building and sealing .
Duct tape is considered a pressure sensitive adhesive. Pressure sensitive adhesives are tapes that require light pressure to stick to most surfaces. The first of these tapes was invented by Dr. Horace Day in 1845. Day was a surgeon in need of surgical tape for his medical practice and the result was a multi-layered tape that consisted of applying rubber adhesive to strips of cloth . This was one of the direct forerunners to modern day duct tape, although it was still lacking the crucial element of the waterproof exterior.
In the 1920s, two-tone cars were becoming popular and automakers needed a way to paint a crisp line on a car while keeping up the fast pace of production. Cloth tapes were not effective because the paint would seep through. Thus, in 1925 masking tape was invented by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), featuring a tan paper backing coated with a rubber adhesive combined with various oils to make it stick .
All of these products filled a niche, but none could adhere to as wide a range of products as duct tape eventually would.