Earth Science

The Amazing Origins of Velcro

Velcro on a pair of shoes

Velcro is arguably one of the most important inventions created by man, mainly due to the fact that it is applied to almost every object or clothing found around the world. This invention, also known as the hook-and-loop fastener, is utilized in clothes, shoes, and even the suits used by astronauts while in space. The Velcro functions as a material that can help attach two objects or fabrics that cannot stick to each other. For example, if you want to stick one end of a strap to another strap, then the first strap would have the “hooks” portion of the Velcro that is made of up of tiny curved plastic pieces, while the second strap would have the “loops”  portion that consists of wooly material that sticks to the hooks fairly easily. While almost all people know Velcro, there is not a lot who are not familiar with its inventor and origins. To fill you in with all you need to know about the material’s humble beginnings, here is a brief history of Velcro.

Origins of Velcro

The hook-and-loop fastener, most commonly known by its brand name “Velcro,” was invented by a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral in 1941. The idea for his invention came when he noticed that his dog has several burdock plants stuck on its fur after a hunting trip in the Alps. De Mestral then examined the burdock plants closely, and he saw that each of its bur (the seed or dry fruit of the burdock) has a hook at its end. These bur hooks would often stick to materials, furs, or pieces of clothing that have loops or fluff in them. After examining the burdock, he realized that the sticking process of the bur and the loop would be useful for attaching two materials or fabrics together. Because of how de Mestral came up with Velcro, biomechanics expert Steven Vogel considered it a key example of getting inspiration from nature to create a human invention. This method is known as biomimetics.

the burdock plant that serves as the inspiration for Velcro

When de Mestral first took his invention to some of the most famous fabric dealers and manufacturers in the French city of Lyon, his creation was panned. However, de Mestral caught the attention of one unknown weaver, who helped him produce the two cotton strips needed to demonstrate the features of the hook-and-loop fastener. Unfortunately, the loop strip wore out in only a few minutes of use. Because of the faulty cotton material, de Mestral tried finding a material that is more durable, and this search led him to use synthetic fibers that are considered the most resilient types of fabric during that time.

De Mestral eventually chose nylon as the material for his invention’s hooks, as it will not fray as easily as cotton, and it can be produced in different sizes and thicknesses. To create the hooks at each of the nylon strips, de Mestral subjected them under hot infrared light, which forces the ends to curl like hooks. While he was successful in creating the hooks out of nylon, he was still figuring out how to make the loops portion to stick better on the hooks. The first method he did to increase the sticking strength, he utilized nylon and woven it in loops, then he heat-treated it to retain its shape. However, the loops were too long that it would form a distance between the two surfaces of the Velcro. Before he gave up on his invention, de Mestral cut each end of the nylon loops to shorten its length, and this proved to be effective in shortening the distance between the two materials. It was believed that de Mestral took nine years to produce a fully-functioning hook-and-loop fastener.

The Swiss engineer applied for a patent for his invention in 1951, and it was officially granted in 1955. In just a few years, he founded a company called “Velcro” and opened up stores around Europe and the United States to sell his invention and other textiles. The hook-and-loop fastener because popular when a columnist named Sylvia Porter featured de Mestral’s invention in her column “Your Money’s Worth” on August 25, 1958.  In the column, Porter stated that the hook-and-loop fastener is more revolutionary than the zipper.

At the start of the 1960s, the Velcro product was utilized in bulky spacesuits as a way for astronauts to get out of them easier. Zippers were first proposed to be incorporated in spacesuits, but it was ultimately decided that Velcro would be a better product to use since they are faster to “separate” than the two ends of zippers. After a few years, Velcro would find its way on clothing for skiers, as manufacturers realize that space suits and ski suits are similar by design. By the end of the 60s, the Velcro product is already seen in clothing for children and adults.

When de Mestral’s patent expired in 1978, clothing manufacturers in China, South Korea, and Taiwan copied de Mestral’s invention and incorporated it on the clothes that they make. Despite the expiration of the patent, de Mestral’s Velcro company continued to make profits until today. Because of de Mestral’s impactful invention, he was inducted in the United States’ National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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