Why Are Legal Pads Yellow?

The quintessential office supply — the legal pad — is simple, professional, cheap, and instantly recognizable. Part of its lure is the unwritten rule that legal pads are for adults only. Some people describe a feeling of satisfaction when they finally reach the point where they’re “sophisticated” enough to use them. After all, legal pads equal important business. So, why is the color yellow? That requires a little history first. The legal pad was invented in 1888 by Thomas Holley, a paper mill worker in Massachusetts. He came up with the idea of collecting tons of paper scraps off the mill floor and stitching them together to make pads of paper. His invention was a hit, and Holley was able to quit his job at the mill and form the American Pad and Paper Company. Though the paper pads were originally white, they were later dyed yellow because the color is easier on the eyes due to the absence of the glare that white paper throws off. Around 1900, a local judge asked Holley to add a vertical line down the left side of the paper to create a margin where he could make notes. Those margins — also known as down lines — are always red and drawn 1¼ inches from the left edge of the page. Aside from the yellow paper, blue lines and a gummed, tear-off top, the red margin is the only requirement for a pad to qualify as a legal pad. In other words, yellow, blue, pink or purple paper, without the red margin, it's not a legal pad.