The Swiss are known for their chocolate, cows, chocolate cows and mountains. It was while he was out hunting with his dog on one of these mountains that a man named Georges de Mestral made a discovery. He noticed that his dog was covered with burrs – small seeds or dried fruits that have hooks or prickles. Poor old Fido had no idea that he was about to become the catalyst for one of the world’s most underrated inventions.
De Mestral promptly ran down the mountain with his dog, dodging goats on his way, and shoved the prickly bits that he’d yanked from Fido’s hair under a microscope. Then he stuck the burrs onto one of his woolly socks and shoved that under the microscope. What he saw almost made him yodel with joy. The prickly bits on the burrs meshed with the looped fibres in his socks, binding them tightly together.
It seems that de Mestral had an irrational hatred of zips and came up with the idea for a strong, reversible and maintenance-free fastening system to rival those pesky metal fasteners. After several attempts with various materials, he found that nylon, when sewn under hot infrared lights, formed tough hooks and the “hook and loop fastener” was born.
It took ten years and the rebuffing of many nay-sayers to perfect his invention, and in 1955 de Mestral patented it under the name “Velcro”, a word formed from the French for “velvet” (velours) and “hook” (crochet).
Today, the hook and loop fastener is universally known as Velcro, even though this is actually a trademark and you might get arrested for calling generic hook and loop fasteners “Velcro”. Velcro can be used for more purposes than you can shake your hunting rifle at. NASA, for example, uses lashings and lashings of the stuff in its space craft, manufactured from teflon loops and polyester hooks.
Aside from the more common uses, such as on shoes, clothes and bags, Velcro has held together a human heart during the first artificial heart surgery and is widely used in every hospital, laboratory and military institution. It’s also very strong; a two inch square piece of Velcro is enough to support a 79 kilo person, which is great news for all you 79 kilo people who would like to temporarily suspend yourselves from the ceiling. All this goes to prove that a) there’s more to the Swiss than cows, chocolate, mountains and neutrality and b) that walking up and down mountains with a dog can lead to amazing inventions. De Mestrel eventually sold his company and patent rights and once gave the executives at Velco International the following piece of advice that every manager should take note of: “If any of your employees ask for a two-week holiday to go hunting, say yes.”