It’s hard to imagine what we would do without Velcro. Velcro is a multi-functional Velcro that is used in many aspects of modern life, from disposable diapers to the aerospace industry. However, this clever invention was almost accidental.
Velcro was created by Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, who was inspired by walking with his dog in the woods in 1941. When they returned home, Demystral noticed that the burrs (from the burdock plant) had already attached to his pants and the dog’s fur.
De Mestral is an amateur inventor who is naturally curious and examined burrs under a microscope. What he saw sparked his interest. Over the next 14 years, De Mestral attempted to replicate what he saw under a microscope, and then in 1955, he pushed Velcro to the world.
Check for burrs
Most of us have had the experience of burrs sticking to our clothes (or pets) and think it’s just a worry, never wanting to know why it really happened. However, Mother Nature never does anything without a specific reason.
Burrs have long been used to ensure the survival of various plant species. When a burr (a form of seed pod) attaches to an animal’s fur, it is carried by the animal to another place where it eventually falls off and grows into a new plant.
De Mestral is more concerned with how than why. How can such a small object stand out from such a large stronghold? Under a microscope, de Mestral can see the tips of burrs, which appear hard and straight to the naked eye, but actually contain tiny hooks that can attach to fibers in clothing, similar to hook eye buckles.
De Mestral knew that if he could somehow reproduce a simple hook system with burrs, he would be able to produce a very sturdy fastener with many practical applications.
Find the ‘right thing’
The first challenge for De Mestral is to find a fabric that can be used to create a strong bonding system. With the help of a weaver in Lyon, France (an important textile center), Demeteral first attempted to use cotton.
The weaver created a prototype, where one cotton strip contains thousands of hooks and the other consists of thousands of rings. However, De Mestral found that cotton was too soft – it couldn’t withstand repeated opening and closing.
For several years, de Mestral has continued his research, searching for the best materials for his products, as well as the optimal sizes of rings and hooks.
After repeated testing, de Mestral finally learned that the synthetic material had the best effect and chose heat-treated nylon, which is a sturdy and durable material.
In order to mass-produce his new product, de Mestral also needed to design a special type of loom that could weave fibers of appropriate size, shape, and density – which took him several more years.
By 1955, de Mestral had completed an improved version of the product. Each square inch of material contains 300 hooks, and this density has been proven to be strong enough to remain fixed, but it is easy to pull apart when needed.
Velcro obtained name and patent
De Mestral named his new product “Velcro”, which comes from the French words “loop” and “hook”. (The name Velcro only refers to the trademark brand created by de Mestral).
In 1955, de Mestral obtained a patent for Velcro from the Swiss government. He started large-scale production of Velcro with a loan, opened factories in Europe, and ultimately expanded to Canada and the United States.
His Victor America factory opened in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1957 and is still there today.
De Mestral initially planned to use Velcro as a “zipperless zipper” in clothing, but this idea was not successful at first. At a fashion show in New York City in 1959, Velcro was used to highlight clothing, which critics considered ugly and cheap. Therefore, Velcro is more associated with sportswear and equipment than with high-end fashion.
In the early 1960s, when NASA began using this product to prevent objects from floating under zero gravity conditions, the popularity of Velcro greatly increased. NASA later added Velcro to astronauts’ spacesuits and helmets and found it to be more convenient than the previously used buttons and zippers.
In 1968, when sneaker manufacturer Puma launched the world’s first sneaker to be fixed with Velcro, Velcro replaced the laces for the first time. Since then, Velcro buckles have completely changed children’s footwear. Even very young children can independently tie their Velcro shoes before learning how to tie shoelaces.
How do we use Velcro today
Nowadays, Velcro seems to be everywhere, from healthcare environments (blood pressure cuffs, orthopedic equipment, and surgeon gowns) to clothing and footwear, sports and camping equipment, toys and entertainment, aviation cushions, and more. The most impressive thing is that Velcro was used for the first human artificial heart transplant, fixing various parts of the device together.
Velcro is also used by the military, but some modifications have been made recently. Due to the potential for excessive noise in combat environments and the trend of reduced efficiency in dusty areas such as Afghanistan, Velcro has been temporarily removed from military uniforms.
In 1984, on his late night TV show, comedian David Letterman wore a Velcro suit and catapulted himself onto a Velcro wall. His successful experiment ushered in a new trend: Velcro jumping off the wall.
The Legacy of Demeteral
Over the years, Velcro has evolved from a novelty item to a near necessity in developed countries. De Mestral probably never dreamed that his product would become so popular, nor did he dream of its countless ways of use.
The process used by de Mestral to develop velcro – checking one aspect of nature and applying its characteristics to practical applications – is called “bionics”.
Due to Victor’s astonishing success, Demeteral became a very wealthy person. After his patent expired in 1978, many other companies began producing Velcro, but none of them were allowed to refer to their products as “Velcro,” which is a trademark name. However, most of us – just like we call tissues “Kleenex” – refer to all Velcro as Velcro.
George de Mestellar passed away in 1990 at the age of 82. He was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Inventors in 1999.