Can you imagine your life without Velcro? That hook-and-loop fastener that we use in menu surprising aspects of our life. From shoes and bags to disposable diapers and in the aerospace industry. Velcro is such an important detail that helps keeps our things in place. But did you know that this ingenious invention came about almost by accident?
Velcro was the brainchild of a Swiss engineer named Georges De Mestral. He said that he took a walk in the woods with his dog in 1941 and when he got home, he noticed some burrs that were attached to his trousers and his dog. His mind quickly wondered if that annoying burrs could be turned into something useful. That’s why he took the burrs, examined it under a microscope and what he saw next intrigued him. After several experiments and eight years of research, De Mestral successfully reproduced the natural attachment with two strips of fabric, one was composed of thousands of tiny loops and the other one with thousands of tiny hooks.
Closer Look at the Burr
Almost all of us have experienced burrs clinging to our clothes and it is definitely annoying. We mostly never wondered how it happens. Apparently, a burr attaches itself to an animals fur, and it is carried to another location where it eventually falls off and grows into a new plant.
But De Mestral was is not concerned about why it happens, he’s more concern about how it happens. That’s why he decided to examine it under a microscope and he saw tiny hooks that can attach themselves to fibers in clothing just like a hook-and-eye lock. De Mestral thought that if he could reinvent the hook system of the burr, he could create a strong fastener that can be used in several things.
Finding the Perfect Fabric
The first problem De Mastral encountered in making the Velcro was finding the perfect fabric that he could use that will create a strong bonding system. That’s why he asked for the help of a weaver from Lyon, France which is known to be an important textile center in Europe and they first tried using cotton.
They made a prototype with one cotton strip that contains thousands of loops and another cotton strip that is made up of thousands of hooks. But De Mestral was not satisfied with the cotton fabric because it was too soft and it cannot stand up to repeated openings and closures. De Mestral continued his research for the best fabric for his product as well as the perfect size of the hooks and loops.
After years of research and repeated testing, Georges De Mastral discovered that heat-treated nylon is the best fabric to use because it is a strong and durable substance. But he took several years or so in developing his product because he had to design a special type of loom that could weave the fibers in just the right shape, density, and size. Georges De Mestral finally completed the improved version of the Velcro in 1955. In each inch square of the fabric contained about 300 hooks which had the density strong enough to stay fastened but at the same time easy enough to pull apart when needed.
The Name and Patent
Georges De Mestral decided to name his product Velcro derived from the words velvet and crochet. De Mastral received a patent for Velcro from the Swiss government in 1955 after that, he took a loan and started to mass produce Velcro. He opened plants in Europe which eventually expanded to the United States and Canada. In fact, the Velcro USA plant that he opened in 1957 in Manchester, New Hampshire is still there today.
Velcro Becomes a Hit
Velcro was originally intended to be a “zipper-less zipper” that is used for clothing but somehow, the idea did not become successful. In fact, during a fashion show in 1959 in New York City even highlighted clothing with Velcro but the critics did not like it and they said that it was cheap-looking and ugly. That’s why Velcro became associated with sportswear and equipment rather than haute couture.
Despite of this, Velcro received a rise in popularity in the early 1960s when NASA began to use Velcro to keep their things from floating around under zero-gravity. And they later added Velcro to the space suits and helmets of the astronauts because they find it more convenient compared to the zippers and snaps they used before.
In 1968, Velcro was used as shoelaces for the first time, thanks to shoe manufacturer Puma which introduced the world’s first sneakers that were fastened with Velcro. After that, the Velcro fasteners have transformed children’s footwear. It became a great help because even the little ones can fasten and tighten their shoe long before they learn how to tie their shoelaces.
Today, you can see Velcro being used almost everywhere. From clothes, shoes, bags, sporting equipment, and toys to airline seat cushions, blood pressure cuffs, surgeon gowns, and orthopedic devices.
Throughout the years, Velcro has evolved from being a novelty item to a product that is widely used all over the world. Georges De Mastral never dreamed of how his invention would become popular not to mention the countless ways that it could be used.