- Ether Anesthesia
- Post-it Notes
- Stainless Steel
In 1948, a Frenchman named George de Mestral returned from a relaxing nature hike with his dog, to find himself and the dog covered with burrs. Little did he know, these annoyingly prickly seeds would be the inspiration for one of the world's most popular fasteners - Velcro.
George De Mestral was born near Lausanne, Switzerland, June 19th, 1907. Through hard work, De Mestral was able to put himself through college, eventually graduating as an electrical engineer.
DeMestral worked in the machine shop at a Swiss engineering firm following graduation, but he never forgot his first love: inventing.
- Cockleburrs require eight hours of constant darkness to flower. Even one minute of light exposure during the eight nighttime hours will keep it from flowering.
- De Mestral received his first patent at age 12 for designing a toy plane.
- In 1936, GM introduced dual windshield wipers.
- By the end of the 1950's, textile looms were churning out 60 million yards of Velcro per year.
An avid outdoorsman, DeMestral returned from one of his many hikes in 1948 to find his dog, as well as himself, covered in burrs.
But instead of brushing them off as he usually did, DeMestral examined the clingy seeds under his microscope. What he saw through the lens amazed him.
Burrs are plant seeds covered in small hooks. These hooks attach to the fur of animals, spreading the plant as far as the carrier animal travels. DeMestral realized that these hooks could form the basis of a new type of fastener! By creating pieces of cloth with burr-like hooks woven into them, two pieces of DeMestral's fastener could be joined.
DeMestral experimented with various cloths and hook-making processes for three years, usually working with small batches of custom-woven cotton.
The velvet-like appearance of this original cloth, lent the product its name, which DeMestral derived from the French words for velvet "velour" and hook - "crochet." The result was Velcro. In 1951 he applied for a patent.
DeMestral's original invention utilized two pieces of similar cloth - both sides had hooks for grabbing. By 1988 the process of manufacturing, combined with advances in plastic, and especially nylon, led to what we today commonly think of as Velcro.
Today, most hook and loop fasteners have hooks on only one side. A strip of heated plastic is fed through special rollers which deform the plastic into hooks. The resulting hooks attach to soft cloth strips which are woven thickly to provide an adequate number of loops for the hooks to grab.
Today, the Velcro company is one of the largest producers of hook-and-loop fasteners, which are used in almost every field and industry, from fashion to space exploration.
It just goes to show: inspiration can come from the last place you'd expect. The next time you're in the great outdoors, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might come up with.