The Observation That Inspired the Invention of Velcro

April 14, 2021

Shoes with Velcro fasteners.

Velcro is found everywhere and can be used in an almost limitless number of applications, but if it weren’t for a simple observation by one man, we might have never had this type of fastener.

The idea for Velcro started in 1941 when a Swiss engineer named Georges de Mestral was hiking through the woods while on a hunting trip and noticed that burrs had stuck to his clothing and his dog. He began to wonder how the burrs managed to attach themselves to the fabric of his clothing and his dog’s hair.

He took the burrs that belonged to the burdock plant home and examined them under a microscope, curious to see how they worked. He discovered that the burrs had hundreds of tiny hooks that attached to the loops of his clothing. 

Though he wasn’t initially thinking that the burrs could be a business opportunity, he soon realized that a new type of fastener could be developed. But it would take de Mestral eight years of research to invent how the tiny hooks and loops would stick themselves together in a practical way.

He finally came up with a way to make two cotton stripes, one with tiny hooks and the other with tiny loops, successfully stick together and then taken apart. He later moved on to using nylon since it didn’t wear out when used. De Mestral named his new invention Velcro, a combination of the French word for velvet, “velour,” and hook, “crochet.” He got a patent for the invention in 1955, 14 years after he wondered how the burrs got stuck to his clothing.

Other Velcro Facts

Velcro got its big break with its use in the Apollo space program in the 1960s. Astronauts used Velcro to keep things from floating in space. There is even a tiny piece of Velcro in an astronaut’s helmet so they can scratch their nose.

Velcro is the name of the company and not a generic name for the fastener. Velcro’s original patent expired in 1979, but instead of people referring to the fastener as a “hook and loop fastener,” it is commonly referred to as Velcro.

Puma became the first shoe company to use Velcro on their shoes in 1968.

In 1984, David Letterman showed that a person could attach themselves to a wall while wearing a Velcro suit. Letterman jumped on a trampoline and stuck to a Velcro wall, much to the delight of viewers everywhere. 

Learn about these other inventions

The Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie
Liquid Paper – The Invention that Corrected Mistakes
The World’s First Contact Lenses
The World’s First Highway Centerline
The World’s First Barcode
The Amazing History of Vaseline (aka Petroleum Jelly)

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About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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