The invention of velcro is a wonderful example of nature inspiring invention.
In 1941 George de Mestral was walking through the park and was curious about the burdock seeds that clung to his jersey and the coats of his pets. He examined the seeds under a microscope and saw that there were tons of little hooks that attached to almost anything.
To reproduce this characteristic de Mestral used two simple components, little hooks and little loops. When pressed together these would bind temporarily until pulled apart. He went to Lyon, France, which was at the time the centre of weaving. After being told by many that his idea was crazy he managed to convince one weaver to work with him. It worked well but the cotton would quickly wear out.
De Mestral then turned to synthetic fibres and came across nylon, a synthetic fibre that retained its shape, didn’t wear out or mould and could be made in varying thickness. The discovery of nylon is another story in itself. The challenge was then to cut the nylon in the right spot for it to make the hook. This issue pained them for some time until de Mestral bought some shears one day and cut the top off the nylon hoops which ended up creating hooks that fitted perfectly to the hoops in the pile.
It took them a full decade to get the whole process laid out, patented and mechanised. Velcro would make its way into fashion through designers such as Pierre Cordin and Paco Rebanne. Its ant-like strength ratio (5x5cm can hold 80kg) meant it could be used in tough environments such as space travel, ski gear, scuba diving and, perhaps the toughest of them all, children’s clothing.
Men In Black and Star Trek claimed that velcro was an alien invention, with Star Trek even naming the episode where velcro is mentioned, ‘Mestral’. George de Mestral would be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame along with 580 other game-changing inventors.
We have David Letterman to thank for making velcro jumping famous by jumping and sticking to a wall covered in velcro.