Some of the most impressive and universally useful inventions have been thought up as seemingly simple solutions to everyday problems, or inspired by amazing evolutionary solutions found in nature. VELCRO® was developed as the result of both a simple problem, and an ingeniously applied natural solution.
If you have ever gone for a walk in the country and returned home to find your socks or sweater covered in burrs, you have completed the first step along the way to inventing VELCRO®! Those pesky burrs have a way of hanging onto clothes that sometimes makes you think they won't ever come off! Well, Swiss engineer George de Mestral felt your pain. De Mestral returned home one day after a walk with his dog to find burrs, the seeds of the thistle Burdock, had stuck to his clothing as well as his dog's fur in an effort to travel to some fertile ground.
After taking a closer look at the burrs under a microscope, de Mestral determined that the tiny hooks protruding from the seed structures were able to attach to any material that would act as a loop, such as fur, or the individual stitches or loops in the fabric of clothing. The possibility of producing a similar fabric that could bind and detach repeatedly led to his invention of hook and loop fasteners.
Did you know?
Evarcha Arcuata, jumping spiders have small gripping structures on their legs called setules that are comparable to the hook and loop structure of VELCRO® and allow them to grip smooth surfaces.
The product we know as VELCRO® is the widely popular brand name for the hook and loop fasteners that George de Mestral developed back in 1948. These two sided fasteners are identifiable by having stiff hook structures on one side, and softer loops on the other.
Did you know?
The name VELCRO® was created from the French words "velour" and "crochet", referring to the soft, velvety looped side and hooked portion of the fastener respectively.
When first trying to fabricate a product from his idea, de Mestral worked with a weaver who attempted to make the fastener using cotton. Unfortunately, cotton breaks down over time and isn't strong enough to produce the results for which de Mestral was hoping. Eventually he came across the possibility of using nylon, a relatively new product at the time, which can be molded into the needed hooked forms and sewn into loops.
From the simple beginnings of the VELCRO® design, the VELCRO® brand fasteners have evolved into many different forms. VELCRO® brand fasteners may be sewn into place or attached to surfaces using self adhesive backing. The strength, size and durability of VELCRO® brand products can be adjusted according to the application, so any designer or manufacturer can work with VELCRO® to produce a fastener to meet individual needs.
Today, hook and loop fasteners are used in many facets areas of our lives. From simple VELCRO® brand fasteners on sneakers and the straps on backpacks, to the Human Fly wall (which can mean hours of sticky fun) and even medical, automotive and industrial applications, VELCRO® is all around us!
Did you know?
VELCRO® has been launched into space! NASA uses VELCRO® brand fasteners in order to anchor equipment on the space shuttle while in zero gravity.
More than 60 years after the innovative idea occurred to de Mestral, his hook and loop fasteners are evolving and making our lives easier. So, just remember: Sometimes, in order to come up with a world changing idea, you just need to "stick" to it!
References and Links:
Pugno, Nicola Maria. 2007. Velcro® nonlinear mechanics. Applied Physics Letters 90: 121918
VELCRO®: Pioneers in Hook & Loop: www.velcro.com
US Patents: http://patft.uspto.gov/...
Velcro. (2008). In Britannica Student Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 29, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article-9313999
Anne is a graduate from Queen’s University, where she studied Biology (MSc) and Mechanical Engineering (BSc). She now lives in Toronto and works at an environmental organization. In her free time Anne enjoys playing basketball, running and traveling.