Velcro Was Modeled After Burrs of the Burdock Plant that Stuck to Velcro’s Inventor’s Pants After a Hunting Trip

Daven Hiskey 9
Today I found out Velcro was modeled after burrs of the burdock plant that stuck to Velcro’s creator’s pants after a hunting trip.

The inventor of Velcro, more generically known as a “hook and loop fastener” or “touch fastener” as “Velcro” is technically just a brand of that product, was Swiss engineer, Georges de Mestral.  After going out on a hunting trip with his dog in the Swiss Alps, his pant legs and his dog’s hair were covered in burrs from the burdock plant.  As an engineer, he naturally began to wonder how exactly the seeds stuck so effectively to his pants and his dog.  He then examined the burrs under a microscope and discovered that they had very tiny hooks which allowed the seeds to catch on to things like fabrics, which have tiny loops.

Hook and loop fasteners have been common for hundreds of years, but up this point no one had ever made a hook and loop fastener on the tiny scale of these burdock plant burrs.  Not to be deterred by the difficulty in making hooks that small, de Mestral then set about trying to replicate these hooks to try to make a material that could easily “stick” and be removed, principally initially having in mind creating a “zipperless zipper”.

Burdock seed

His first prototype for Velcro was using two cotton strips, with one of the strips having hundreds of randomly situated tiny hooks embedded.  The random placement would allow the hooks to be more likely to find a loop in the fabric with the loops also randomly sewn in.  This worked well at first, but the cotton hooks didn’t stand up over many detachments.  After developing many different methods for creating the tiny hooks and loops, he eventually found that heat treated nylon worked best for his product, being very durable, and that he could more easily create the hooks by simply making both sides of the material with the loops, then cutting the tops off the loops.

Even though he now had a durable way to mimic the tiny hooks/loop sticking mechanism of the burdock seeds, he still had no way to mass produce Velcro.  It took another ten years before he finally invented a loom that could automatically weave the nylon appropriately and then trim the loops.  His hard work paid off though with Velcro’s popularity skyrocketing within just a few years of de Mestral being granted a patent for his “zipperless zipper” in 1955.

Bonus Facts:

  • The word “Velcro” is derived from the French “velour” (velvet) and “crochet” (hooks), so essentially “hooked velvet”.
  • Velcro received a huge boost in popularity after being used by NASA on parts of astronaut’s space suits as well as used to allow astronaut’s to store things along the walls of their space craft.  Because of this, similar to Tang, it is a common misconception that Velcro was invented by or for NASA.
  • The company de Mestral started to sell his hook and loop fastener through, Velcro, has forbidden its employees to use the term “Velcro” due to the fact that their brand has become a genericized trademark, like Xerox or “Philips” screwdrivers.  The employees are instead instructed to call their product a “hook and loop fastener”; “hook tape”; or “loop tape”.
  • de Mestral’s patent for Velcro expire in 1978, after he was unsuccessful in updating it.
  • Velcro hooks were later found to be able to be significantly strengthened by adding polyester to the nylon filaments.
  • A two inch square piece of modern Velcro is strong enough to hang 175 pounds from.
  • During the first ever human artificial heart transplant, Velcro was used to hold together the heart during surgery.
  • The Velcro used by NASA today is made with Teflon loops, polyester hooks, and has a glass backing.  They even use it in the astronaut’s helmets where a small strip functions as a nose scratcher.
  • The U.S. army uses a near silent version of Velcro on their soldier’s uniforms.  The version they use reduces the ripping noise by about 95% over traditional Velcro.  Unfortunately you won’t see such Velcro for sale in the store anytime soon as the method of manufacturing this silent Velcro is currently classified.
  • Velcro was not de Mestral’s first patented invention.  At the age of 12 years old he invented a toy airplane that he subsequently patented.  He also later patented a hygrometer, which is a device that measures humidity in the air, and an asparagus peeler.

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9 Comments »

  1. Carolyn Coe February 15, 2012 at 8:33 am - Reply

    SCUMBAG MILITARY??? REALLY??? Try trading places with them and see who they really are!!! I work for the military, have served in the military and have many family members who have done the same. You’re whining because you want quiet velcro?? SERIOUSLY?? GROW UP AND PUT YOUR BIG BOY PANTS ON!!

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven February 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm - Reply

      @Carolyn Coe: This was a joke, referencing one of the most popular memes on the internet. It was not meant to offend anyone. If you doubt my military non-hate, you should know my brother Kelly is a lifer in the military including so far serving multiple times in Afghanistan and a tour in Iraq, thus far. Also my brother in law served a tour in the Navy. Google “scumbag meme” and I think you’ll get the joke. If you still doubt me, search my site for military references and I think you’ll see how much I respect the actual people who serve. That being said, I’ll always feel free to criticize the military or political decisions themselves made by our government (whether in a joking manner, not really meant as a true criticism, or actually criticize them). I question whether anyone in the military who objects to that really understands what they’re fighting for. Now, of course, objecting to my actual argument is another thing entirely. I’m always up for a good debate. :-)

      All that being said, I nearly always try to keep “politics” and personal opinion out of my posts here. In this case, I made an exception because of the ridiculousness of the reference. I highly doubt anyone actually cares that the military keeps their silent velcro making secrets to themselves. Hence, I thought the “*scumbag military: uses taxpayer dollars to develop awesome practical product that would pose no danger if publicly released, refuses to share it with taxpayers.” meme joke would be funny, rather than offensive, because of the ludicrously of it. Apparently I was wrong.

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