Velcro is a company that produces the first commercially marketed fabric hook and loop fastener, invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955, subsequently refining and developing its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s.
Hook-and-loop fasteners consist of two components: typically, two lineal fabric strips (or, alternatively, round "dots" or squares) which are attached (e.g., sewn, adhered, etc.) to the opposing surfaces to be fastened. The first component features tiny hooks; the second features even smaller and "hairier" loops. When the two components are pressed together, the hooks catch in the loops and the two pieces fasten or bind temporarily during the time that they are pressed together. When separated, by pulling or peeling the two surfaces apart, the velcro strips make a distinctive "ripping" sound.
The first Velcro sample was made of cotton, which proved impractical and was replaced by Nylon and polyester. Velcro fasteners made of Teflon loops, polyester hooks, and glass backing are used in aerospace applications, e.g. on space shuttles.
The term Velcro is commonly used to mean any type of hook-and-loop fastener, but remains a registered trademark in many countries used by the Velcro company to distinguish their brand of fasteners from their competitors. The Velcro company headquarters is in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The idea came to him one day after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps. He took a close look at the burrs (seeds) of burdock that kept sticking to his clothes and his dog's fur. He examined them under a microscope, and noted their hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, such as clothing, animal fur, or hair. He saw the possibility of binding two materials reversibly in a simple fashion if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops. Velcro is viewed by some like Steven Vogel or Werner Nachtigall as a key example of inspiration from nature or the copying of nature's mechanisms (called bionics or biomimesis).
Originally people refused to take de Mestral seriously when he took his idea to Lyon, which was then a center of weaving. He did manage to gain the help of one weaver, who made two cotton strips that worked. However, the cotton wore out quickly, so de Mestral turned to synthetic fibers. He settled on nylon as being the best synthetic, which had several advantages. Nylon doesn’t break down, rot, or attract mold, and it could be produced in threads of various thickness. Nylon had only recently been invented, and through trial and error he eventually discovered that, when sewn under hot infrared light, nylon forms hooks that were perfect for the hook side of the fastener. Though he had figured out how to make the hooks, he had yet to figure out a way to mechanize the process, and to make the looped side. Next he found that nylon thread, when woven in loops and heat-treated, retains its shape and is resilient; however, the loops had to be cut in just the right spot so that they could be fastened and unfastened many times. On the verge of giving up, a new idea came to him. He bought a pair of shears and trimmed the tops off the loops, thus creating hooks that would match up perfectly with the loops in the pile.
Mechanizing the process of weaving the hooks took eight years, and it took another year to create the loom that trimmed the loops after weaving them. In all, it took ten years to create a mechanized process that worked. He submitted his idea for patent in Switzerland in 1951 and the patent was granted in 1955. Within a few years he obtained patents and began to open shops in Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada. In 1957 he branched out to the textile center of Manchester, New Hampshire in the United States. Columnist Sylvia Porter made the first mention of the product in her column Your Money's Worth of August 25, 1958, writing "It is with understandable enthusiasm that I give you today an exclusive report on this news: A 'zipperless zipper' has been invented — finally. The new fastening device is in many ways potentially more revolutionary than was the zipper a quarter century ago." A Montreal firm, Velek, Ltd., acquired the exclusive right to market the product in North and South America, as well as in Japan, with American Velcro, Inc. of New Hampshire, and Velcro Sales of New York, marketing the "zipperless zipper" in the United States.
De Mestral obtained patents in many countries right after inventing Velcro as he expected a high demand immediately. Partly due to its cosmetic appearance, though, Velcro's integration into the textile industry took time. At the time, Velcro looked like it had been made from leftover bits of cheap fabric, and thus was not sewn into clothing or used widely when it debuted in the early 1960s. It was also viewed as impractical.
A number of Velcro brand products were displayed at a fashion show at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York in 1959, and the fabric got its first break when it was used in the aerospace industry to help astronauts maneuver in and out of bulky space suits. However, this reinforced the view among the populace that Velcro was something with very limited utilitarian uses. The next major use Velcro saw was with skiers, who saw the similarities between their costume and the astronauts, and thus saw the advantages of a suit that was easier to don and remove. Scuba and marine gear followed soon after. Having seen astronauts storing food pouches on walls, children's clothing makers came on board. As Velcro only became widely used after NASA's adoption of it, NASA is popularly — and incorrectly — credited with its invention. By the mid-1960s Velcro was used in the futuristic creations of fashion designers such as Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne.
In 1978 de Mestral's patent expired, prompting a flood of low-cost imitations from Taiwan, China and South Korea onto the market. Today, the trademark is the subject of more than 300 trademark registrations in over 159 countries.[specify] George de Mestral was inducted into the national inventors hall of fame for his invention.
The big breakthrough George de Mestral made was to think about hook-and-eye closures on a greatly reduced scale. Hook and eye fasteners have been common for centuries, but what was new about Velcro was the miniaturisation of the hooks and eyes. Shrinking the hooks led to the two other important differences. Firstly, instead of a single-file line of hooks, Velcro has a two-dimensional surface. This was needed, because in decreasing the size of the hooks, the strength was also unavoidably lessened, thus requiring more hooks for the same strength. The other difference is that Velcro has indeterminate match-up between the hooks and eyes. With larger hook and eye fasteners, each hook has its own eye. On a scale as small as that of Velcro, matching up each of these hooks with the corresponding eye is impractical, thus leading to the indeterminate matching.
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Because it is easy to use, maintenance free and safe, the hook-and-loop fasteners have been used for just about every conceivable application where a temporary bond is required. It is especially popular in clothing where it replaces buttons or zippers, and as a shoe fastener for children who have not yet learned to tie shoelaces and for those who choose Velcro over laces. Velcro is used in adaptive clothing, which is clothing designed for people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and the infirm who may experience difficulty dressing themselves due to an inability to manipulate closures, such as buttons and zippers. As Velcro is easier to manipulate, it makes a good replacement.
Variations on Velcro
Slidingly Engaging Fastener was developed to address several problems with velcro. Heavy duty variants (e.g., "Dual Lock" or "Duotec") feature mushroom shaped stems on each face of the fastener, providing an audible snap when the two faces mate. A strong adhesive backing adheres each component to its substrate.
On August 26, 2013, YKK Corporation a subsidiary of YKK Group, filed a patent infringement complaint in the Middle District of Georgia against Velcro USA Inc. relating to a fastener strip used in foam molded products like a cushion body used for an automobile seat.
In popular culture
In the fictional universe of Star Trek, Velcro is, albeit indirectly, invented by the Vulcans. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Carbon Creek", a sample of Velcro is taken from a crashed Vulcan starship and given to a patent clerk to raise money for a teenage boy's college career. (Also, one of the Vulcan crewmembers in that episode is named Mestral, an obvious nod to Georges de Mestral.)
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- Velcro Official US company website
- closeup of Velcro hooks and loops
- VELCRO Patent - from Google Patents Anniversary