It was not an easy start for the five northern Minnesota entrepreneurs who founded their venture in June of 1902 in Two Harbors, Minnesota, USA. They had discovered a mineral they believed was corundum, a substance almost as tough as diamonds and an ideal component in grinding wheels used by furniture makers at the time. Founders Bryan, Cable, Budd, Dwan and McGonagle were banking on the success of this discovery.
Leaps of faith were common in those days. The company sold shares and made plans to start mining before they were even certain they had customers. Almost two years after 3M’s founding, the company sold its first batch of minerals – one ton of Crystal Bay “corundum” in March 1904.
But it wasn’t meant to be! 3M’s corundum product turned out to be anorthosite – a soft mineral, and useless as an abrasive product. As a result, there was little success raising operating capital. With an inferior mineral, no domestic source of raw materials, no ready cash, and no product, they could have logically admitted defeat. Instead, the company moved to Duluth in 1905 and it was decided to shift focus from being a supplier of raw product to become a manufacturer of their own abrasives. In 1914, after an attempt to manufacture and market sandpaper, 3M responded to competitors in the market by sourcing their own artificial mineral and innovating “Three-M-ite” cloth. It turned out to be 3M’s first profitable product – and the rest is history.