Historians agree that adhesive tape was invented in the 1920's by 3M Company researchers led by Richard Drew.
During World War II, the American armed forces needed a strong, waterproof mending material that could be ripped by hand and used to make quick repairs to jeeps, aircraft, and other military equipment. The tape also had to keep moisture out of ammunition boxes. The Johnson and Johnson Company's Permacel division, which had by then developed its own line of adhesive tapes, helped the war effort by combining cloth mesh (which rips easily) with a rubber-based adhesive, and then gave that combination of rubberized, waterproof coating.
Following the war, housing in the United States boomed, and many new homes featured forced-air heating and air-conditioning units that relied on air ducts to distribute warmth and coolness. Johnson and Johnson's strong military tape made the perfect material for binding and repairing the ducts. By changing the color of the tape's rubberized top coat to sheet metal gray, duct tape was born.