Who Invented Velcro?

Before the middle of 20th century, people lived in a Velcro-less world where zippers were the fjfhf and shoes had to be laced. That was until one lovely summer day in 1941 when an amateur-mountaineer and inventor decided to take his dog for a nature hike.

The man and his faithful companion both returned home covered with burrs, the plant seed-sacs that cling to animal fur in order to travel to fertile new planting grounds.

He noticed his dog was covered in the stuff. He was Swiss engineer and naturally curious so he took a sample of the many burrs stuck to his pants and placed them under his microscope to observe the curious properties of the burdock plant that made it stick to certain surfaces. Perhaps, he thought, they can be used for something useful.

Upon closer examination, it was the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling so stubbornly to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants. George de Mestral raised his head from the microscope and smiled thinking something along the lines of "I will design a unique, two-sided fastener, one side with stiff hooks like the burrs and the other side with soft loops like the fabric of my pants. I will call my invention 'velcro' a combination of the word velour and crochet. It will rival the zipper in its ability to fasten."

Mestral's idea met with resistance and even laughter, but the inventor was undeterred.

He worked with a weaver from a textile plant in France to perfect a fastener that worked by experimenting with materials that would hook and loop in a similar manner. Through trial and error, he realized that nylon when sewn under infrared light, formed tough hooks for the burr side of the fastener.

The discovery led to a finished design that he patented in 1955.

He would eventually form Velcro Industries to manufacture and distribute his invention. In the 1960s, Velcro fasteners made its way to space as Apollo astronauts were them to keep items like pens and equipment from floating away while in zero-gravity and in time the product became kind of a household name. Companies like Puma used them in shoes to replace laces. Adidas and Reebok would soon follow. During Mastral’s lifetime, his company sold an average of over sixty million yards of Velcro per year during his lifetime. Not bad for an invention inspired by Mother Nature.

Today you can’t technically buy velcro because the name is the registered trademark for the Velcro Industries' product, but you can have all of the VELCRO brand hook and loop fasteners you need. This distinction was done on purpose and illustrates a problem inventors often face. Names can become generic terms. Many words used frequently in everyday language were once trademarks, for example: escalator, thermos, cellophane and nylon. All were once trademarked names and only the trademark owners could use the name with a product. When names becomes commonplace enough, the U.S. Courts can deny exclusive rights to the trademark.