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Leaders in Innovation

How Did a Walk in the Woods Lead to the Invention of VELCRO® Fasteners?

On May 13, 1955, National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee George de Mestral patented the VELCRO® hook and loop fastener. You might use VELCRO fasteners every day, whether you’re fastening a pair of shoes or securing a cuff to check your blood pressure, but do you know what led de Mestral to develop this helpful invention? He found inspiration while doing something many of us love to do — taking a dog for a walk through the woods.

Read on to learn how nature inspired the invention of VELCRO fasteners.


Hooks and Loops

In a small village near Lausanne, Switzerland, de Mestral was born in 1907. From a young age, it was clear he had an innovative mindset. In fact, he filed his first patent, for a toy airplane, when he was just 12! By working odd jobs, he paid his way through the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1930.

It was in 1941 that he took the walk that would lead to his most impactful patent. As he and his dog, an Irish Pointer, hiked through the woods, de Mestral noticed that burrs from burdock plants clung to his pants and his dog’s fur.

Curious, de Mestral decided to bring a burr home with him so he could examine it under a microscope. He found that the burr was covered in thousands of tiny hooks, which allowed it to firmly cling to the looped threads of his clothing and the strands of his dog’s coat. Nature’s design allowed the burr to travel by hooking onto nearly anything that happened to pass by, helping it to spread the seeds it contained.

Seeing the efficiency of the burr’s hooks, de Mestral was inspired to apply the same kind of design to develop a useful product. This approach to invention is called biomimicry solving human problems by emulating designs, systems and processes found in nature. Mimicking the burr’s design, de Mestral thought he could create a product with thousands of tiny hooks and combine it with fabric loops for the hooks to catch, resulting in a reliable fastening system.

Collaborating with a fabric manufacturer in Lyon, France, de Mestral used nylon to create hooks that were “both flexible enough to separate from the loops when pressure was applied, yet firm enough to keep things together otherwise.” Establishing his own company to manufacture this new product, de Mestral called his hook-and-loop fastener VELCRO, combining the French words velour (velvet) and crochet (hooks).


The Versatility of VELCRO Fasteners

VELCRO fasteners are practical, effective tools with an incredible variety of uses. While most hook-and-loop tapes are nylon-based, there are also varieties made from plastic and stainless steel, and even silver-impregnated substances for electrical applications. Hook-and-loop fasteners are used in everyday items like clothing, office equipment and sports gear, and you can also find VELCRO fasteners in cars and aircraft, medical equipment and nuclear engineering applications.

VELCRO fasteners have even made their way into space! NASA has used the fasteners to keep objects securely attached to walls while a spacecraft floats in orbit.

The next time you hear the familiar sound of a hook-and-loop fastener, think of de Mestral’s story and remember how an invention inspired by nature’s designs here on Earth has not only become part of our daily lives but has even helped us explore beyond our planet.


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