Velcro: an idea that stuck

One of humanity’s favorite inventions – Velcro! Do you know the history behind the invention and how they work? Watch to find out! #STEMvee

Special thanks to Jake Norris for providing the script.

[Video description: Barbara, a white woman wearing a black turtleneck shirt, is sitting in the foreground and the background has a window (center), few plants (left and right), and a chair (right).

00:14:28 A photo of two gray velcro strips opening.

01:11:28 A photo of Burdock burrs in front of blue sky.

01:22:01 A photo of a Burdock plant in the foreground with live burrs branching off the stem. The burrs have purple flowers on the top.

01:59:08 A close-up photo of hooks on a Burdock burr.

02:30:25 A close-up photo of velcro strips with hooks on the top and loops on the bottom.]

Transcript: Used in clothing, around the house, and even in space, Velcro is used in numerous applications. The invention, and the brand, has become so ubiquitous, it is difficult to imagine a world without it. But how was it first discovered?

Some innovations start out with the need to solve a specific problem. Others, such as Velcro, are inspired by a simple observation. What happened with Velcro? In 1941, Swiss engineer and inventor, George de Mestral, was walking in the woods with his dog. Throughout the hike, the dog would collect Burdock burrs on its fur that de Mestral noticed and became curious. As de Mestral noticed with his dog, the Burdock plant propagates its seeds through the prickly burr that catch on animals and humans passing by, to later fall off in a different area and grow into new individuals. de Mestral collected the burrs and put them under a microscope. He discovered that the ends of the burrs have a series of interconnecting “hooks” that allows for the burrs to be very, sometimes annoyingly, good at catching onto creatures brushing against the plant.

After understanding more about the Burdock burr, de Mestral wondered if a series of small, interlocking hooks could have a practical application in attire? He would try for several years to duplicate this phenomenon in textiles. He attempted to create, what is now termed as the “hook-and-loop” fastener system. The system has thousands of tiny plastic loops to the exterior wall of a piece of fabric, which could be snag-fastened to the thousands of tiny hooks attached to a second piece of cloth.

Prior to the invention, de Mestral would fail at the beginning, trying to use cotton at first, as the fibers proved to be too weak and thin for the application. He tested many textile materials that were commonly available at the time. Fortunately, by chance, a Nylon thread accidentally became mixed into the sample materials. de Mestral realized that the Nylon properties, having durability and “memory”, were just what was needed to create a strong and lasting bond between the joined fabrics.

The next challenge was to create a technique to manufacture the fabric shapes. The “loop” of the system he knew was relatively easy to manufacture however there was no straightforward way to create the “hook”. de Menstral eventually invented a device, based on the design of hair clippers used at barber shops, to successfully cut the manufactured loops into hook shapes.

Almost 20 years after the Velcro idea, de Menstral finally produced the invention. He named Velcro by combining two French words; “velour”, (VEL) meaning velvet, and “crochet”, (CRO) meaning hook.

Velcro may be among the most well known and direct examples of biomimicry in engineering. Biomimicry uses the properties and features found in nature for human-made designs and innovations. Have you observed something in nature that could be turned into an innovation?



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