Today is Daily Doodle number 183!! Which means I am halfway through this year of doodles!! So exciting! I've been thinking about products we use today which came about by paying attention to Mother Nature. Velcro's hooks and loops is one of those products (it should be noted that Velcro is actually the name of the company, not the fastener itself).
George de Mestral was born in the small town of Saint-Saphorin-sur-Morges in 1907. He filed his first patent at the age of 12, for a toy airplane. It wasn’t until his mid-30s that de Mestral discovered the idea that eventually took over the world — though it would take more than two decades for his invention to finally stick.
In 1941, George de Mestral was on a hunting trip and noticed that both his pants and his Irish Pointer’s hair were covered in burs. Instead of removing them in frustration, de Mestral decided to study the burs and why they stuck to things. Under a microscope he discovered thousands of tiny hooks on the bur and they effectively grasped the loops in any fabric (or dog hair) that passed by.
De Mestral, decided to try and fabricate what Mother Nature was already specializing in. It would be a middle ground between buttons, zippers, and sewing stuff together. His idea was to take the hooks he had seen in the burs and combine them with simple loops of fabric. The tiny hooks would catch in the loops, and things would come together.
Trying to bring his idea to life, de Mestral toured fabric manufacturing plants in Europe. The first six fabric companies were skeptical of the idea and said it couldn’t be done. They explained mass-manufacturing of the loops was easy enough, but the tiny hooks were more difficult. The hooks would need to be both flexible enough to separate from the loops when pressure was applied, yet firm enough to keep things together otherwise.
Eventually, a manufacturer in Lyon was discovered combining relatively tough nylon with cotton — a fabric with the ability to hold its shape that was exactly what George de Mestral was looking for. Using the material, he was able to hand-make the same small microscopic hooks he’d seen on burs and attach them to a separate piece of cloth with tiny loops, officially inventing the hook and loop faster in 1948.
De Mestral applied and received a patent for his invention in 1955 and took out a $150,000 loan to work on his project. He also created a company for manufacturing the product: Velcro, a combination of “velvet” and “crochet” (literally, meaning “hook” in French).
Once de Mestral had found his material and proved the idea would work, the problem was that he could only make the hooks by hand, with mass-manufacturing remaining outside his grasp. Getting desperate, he holed-up in a cabin and finally, de Mestral discovered he could use a modified version of something similar to a barber’s clippers to cut the hooks at a certain angle. With the ability to keep the angle of the cut precise, he could finally build a loom that would allow him to mass-produce his hook-and-loop fasteners — nearly twenty years after his initial brainstorm.
Unfortunately, Velcro’s fastener system was not an instant hit when it came to market in the early 1960s... until NASA came along. Looking for a way to keep objects attached to walls while floating in orbit, the agency discovered Velcro’s fastener system. Suddenly, de Mestral’s invention wasn’t an oddity, it was out of this world. It began to show up in clothing in the mid-‘60s, including high fashion. French fashion legend Pierre Cardin became obsessed with the stuff. And de Mestral’s invention was officially a hit.
The Velcro Companies try to remind the public that "Velcro" is not an actual product, but instead a company name... a company that makes far more than the hook-and-loop fastener so closely associated with it. De Mestral passed away in 1990, having sold the rights to his creation to the Velcro Companies, and continued to work on other inventions, including a successful asparagus peeler. But de Mestral will always be linked to Velcro’s hook-and-loop fasteners, which started out as an annoyance on his pant leg, and made it all the way to the moon. A group of international inventors voted Velcro one of the century's 50 most important independent inventions. Do you agree?