Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Georges de Mestral

Today's hero was an inventor who found inspiration in a common problem for those who walk off the beaten path. But instead of trying to combat the burrs that stick to one's pants, Georges de Mestral (1907 - 1990) sought to mimic their stubborn ability to cling. After years of toil, de Mestral invented separable hook and loop fasteners and created the Velcro brand.

The story behind Velcro starts with a walk in the woods in 1941. De Mestral was interested in how the burrs from a burdock plant stuck to his clothes and his dog's fur. Using a microscope he noticed how the tiny hooks on the burdock seeds would snag onto fibers, particularly the looped strands in clothing. De Mestral was intrigued by the possibility of mimicking this phenomenon with fabrics, so he set about a process that culminated in a patent for separable fasteners 14 years later.

De Mestral first experimented with cotton. It worked, but the fibers stretched after moderate use. Through trial and error de Mestral discovered that nylon was the best alternative. Velcro emerged sometime in the late 40's ("Velcro" being a portmanteau of "velour" and "crochet"), but it took several more years to master the mass-production of the hooks and loops. Patents were granted and production began in the mid 1950's, but Velcro was slow to catch on. It gained prominence after use by NASA in their spacesuits and in the first artificial heart surgery.

Today we know of Velcro and non-Velcro brand fasteners predominantly from their use in shoes and clothing accessories, but the fasteners have many applications. One famous example was David Letterman adorning a Velcro suit and attaching himself to a wall. For improving upon nature's design and creating a product that has made life easier for millions of people, Georges de Mestral is very much a Hero of Capitalism.

Velcro Wikipedia entry

De Mestral NYT Obit 1990
American Physical Society

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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