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Invention of Velcro


Swiss Engineer

The invention of Velcro was created by Swiss engineer, George de Mestral.

He received a patent from the Swiss government in 1955 and was subsequently granted patents from other countries around the world.

As with many successful inventors, George had invented other products.

When he was 12, he received a patent for a toy airplane. He also invented an asparagus peeler.

He studied engineering at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and worked in a machine shop for a Swiss engineering company.


Biomimicry

The invention of Velcro resulted from what is known today as the science of biomimicry, derived from the Greek words bios meaning "life" and mimesis meaning "imitate".

Biomimicry is the examination of nature in order to create models, systems or processes that imitate life and solve human problems.

For example, sonar technology was developed from studying how whales and bats use echolocation for navigation, and paper was invented from studying how wasps made their nests.

Biomimicry is actually how George de Mestral became inspired to create Velcro. He was hunting birds with his Irish pointer and traveled through some burdock thistles.

The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.


Research

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. He didn't know how to do this so he decided to talk to fabric experts.

He went to Lyon, France to visit cloth weaving manufacturers. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric.

However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multi-filament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads.

To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon.


Manufacturing

There were problems of how to mass produce the product. George solved this by inventing a new manufacturing process, which he describes in the patent.

George borrowed money and established his own company in Switzerland, Velcro SA, and began manufacturing his invention of Velcro.

The name "Velcro"® is a derivation from the French words Velours (velvet) and Crochet (hook) and was registered as a trademark on May 13, 1958.


Marketing

Although there were literally hundreds of uses for his hook and loop fastener, initial sales were disappointing. This was due to the reluctance of clothing manufacturers to use the product - it wasn't considered fashionable.

However, when NASA started using Velcro on their space suits, then sports apparel and child clothing manufacturers started buying over 60 million yards per year.

George de Mestral became a multi-millionaire and in 1999 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.




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