Messing with a dog's fur after a hunt

Georges de Mestral (Nyon, Switzerland, June 19, 1907 – Commugny, February 2, 1990)

Velcro George de MestralSometime in the year 1948, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, as so often, went hunting with his Irish pointer. Afterwards, as so often, he was annoyed by the tangles that clung to his pants and socks and especially to his dog's coat. Cleavers is a plant that has thousands of small hooks to spread its seed on the seed pods. It is an intelligent plant that spreads its seed efficiently. And over and over again, the Mestral had to pick the nasty little balls from his dog's coat.

This time, however, he remembered that he had had to help his wife with a jammed zipper a few days earlier. Suppose you could manufacture such a closure without metal, he had thought at the time.

He took a few burrs home and put them under the microscope in his small laboratory. He immediately saw that if you took two pieces of fabric, one with all hooks and the other with all loops, you could make a perfect closure.

De Mestral was 41 at the time. He came from a family of fallen Swiss nobility who had produced famous diplomats, including an admiral in the service of the French king. Perhaps the only admiral in Swiss history.

Although the family owned a small castle near Lausanne, it was not well off. As a child of 12, Georges had taken out his first patent on a toy airplane. As a young man also on a plow that was driven by an engine.

He had had to pay for his studies at the polytechnic college of Lausanne with all kinds of odd jobs. In the 1930s he simply worked as an engineer. He was in military service throughout World War II.

After the war he resumed his engineering job. The Velcro idea continued to obsess him.

He had to be able to apply hundreds of hooks and loops on a few square centimeters, and that was not easy. A textile manufacturer in Lyon wanted to cooperate and a manufacturer of looms from Basel wanted to build the right equipment. But it turned out to be a long-term job.

So you had 'a male side' (the hooks) and 'a female side' (the loops). The brackets in particular were a problem.

You could make them bend, but they had to keep their hardness after being pulled off, to re-hook themselves. The experiments lasted a total of eight years. Understandably, a benevolent banker also had to be found in the meantime.

Finally, De Mestral developed a system in which nylon threads were woven onto strips, after which the loops were cut open on one side to form small hooks.

At the end of 1955, the invention – a beautiful imitation of nature – was mature enough to take out a patent. He called the new miraculous closure Velcro, a compound of the first three letters of 'velour', meaning velvet, and 'crochet', the French for hook.

He built his first factory in Aubonne, close to his birthplace.
A short time later he sold everything: the factory and its patents, and so velcro – beautifully translated into Dutch as Velcro – conquered the world. According to one story, Georges de Mestral had the American patent taken away for next to nothing after a heavy drinking spree.

Anyway, the engineer retired to his family chateau SaintSaphorin-sur-Morges, canton of Vaud.

He helped other inventors promote their inventions, he helped them get a reliable patent and he invented new things himself.

His latest inventions include a device for easily peeling asparagus and a hygrometer, a device for measuring the humidity of the air. De Mestral: "It is better to have an elegant mind than to wear elegant clothes." He died in 1990, aged 82.

It is not known how de Mestral reacted when it turned out that his invention was also useful in space travel. The astronauts were able to stick all items that threatened to fly around neatly on the wall with its Velcro in a state of weightlessness.

Or use footwear that had velcro on the bottom. Very strong velcro is today made of stainless steel.
The scientific journal NewScientist has meanwhile announced that the Velcro also has a deadly disadvantage.

Botanists who conduct research in various paradisiacal places – in this case Australia's Macquarie Island – carry hundreds of seeds and fruits in their Velcro that pose a major threat to the biodiversity of the local flora.

By means of velcro - an invention that originated from a plant - the botanists destroy the nature they study.