Rio History: The story of Velcro

By Steve Hathcock

George de Mestral.

The most unique fastener ever invented, Velcro can be used when age makes fingers useless or when ripping a garment off quickly without tearing it is desired.

Tired of pricking his fingers while picking burrs off his dog’s coat Swiss inventor George de Mestral decided to find an easier way to do so. His quest would lead to one of the most remarkable inventions of the 20th Century!

He noted the unique hook-like shape of the burrs enabled them to attach themselves to almost any surface. One thing led to another until he suddenly had an epiphany. Everyone laughed at him but de Mestral persisted and eventually showed his idea to a weaver at a textile mill in France. Together, the two men designed a “locking tape” made from cotton. The biggest hurdle the two men now faced was how to mass produce the new invention using the limited technology then available. In one of those incredible accidents in 1948, de Mestral discovered that indestructible “hooks” formed when nylon was sewn under infrared light. 

The next problem was the name. Somehow ‘hookless fastener’ or ‘locking tape’ did not seem right. de Mestral liked the sound of “vel” from velvet and “cro” from the French word crochet (meaning hook). And just like the annoying burrs had done to his dog’s fur, the name Velcro® stuck. 

By the beginning of the 1960s, textile mills were producing over sixty million yards of the hookless fasteners a year.  Today, the practical uses of Velcro seem endless. Interior designers use the material to hang pictures and pieces of art on the wall or to keep a rug in place on a floor. Computer cords and power lines can be kept from spilling about by wrapping a strip around them. If you use Velcro when rigging your parachute it is recommended you replace it after every one hundred jumps. The United States Army introduced a new Tourniquet in 2004 that uses Velcro to maintain pressure over serious wounds. It has saved countless lives and because it is so easy to use it has even made its way into emergency rooms and first aid kits across the country. One can only imagine the positive effects of a mouth tape that could be worn by whiny children or those who disagree with my political views!

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