Illustration: Pablo Delcan

How 3M Blew Its Reputation on the N95 Mask

The $32 billion company was known as an icon of manufacturing innovation. Then came the mask shortage—and Trump.

The mask fiasco has left 3M with a big dent in the golden reputation it’s been building for more than a century. The reality is, masks are barely a line item on 3M’s balance sheet.

In spite of their low-rent look and feel, N95 masks are precision instruments compared to the cloth masks we’re now all buying from Etsy or The Gap (or the hundreds of other brands now selling them).

“A lot of us were exhausted. We had to make room for crying time.”

The bulk of 3M’s business has actually suffered under the pandemic, with overall sales falling 13% in the second quarter.

David is a Boston-based science writer. The most recent of his five books is WRONG, about the problems with medical research and other expertise.