VELCRO trademarked: May 13, 1958

The term VELCRO  is trademarked by a Swiss company as it begins marketing an ingenious new product invented by an electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral.  About 17 years earlier, following a day of bird hunting in the country when both his trousers and his dog became covered in burrs, de Mestral decided to see if he could create a fabric version of the stubbornly sticky seed carriers.

He worked on the project through the 1940s, refining strips of cotton lined with thousands of tiny hooks and loops.  Many cloth experts were dubious about de Mestral’s concept, but he kept tweaking it, replacing cotton with nylon because the latter lasted longer. He also settled on a design of 300 hooks and loops per square inch. He called his creation VELCRO, a combination of the words “velvet” and “crochet,” and patented it in 1955.

Reports about de Mestral’s invention began appearing in America in 1958.  Time magazine described it as “zipperless zipper” and syndicated financial columnist Sylvia Porter hailed the “new fastening device,”  admitting she had spent quite a bit of time playing with it. The following year it was the centerpiece of a show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, featured in everything from diapers to golf jackets to high-fashion outfits.

But what really boosted VELCRO's reputation was its widespread use by NASA during the early days of the U.S. space program, back when its astronauts were getting so much press coverage.  Americans saw them using it to secure pens, food packets and other equipment. Soon hospitals were using it on everything from blood pressure gauges to patient gowns. In 1968, Puma became the first major shoe company to offer a sneaker with VELCRO fasteners and others, including Adidas and Reebok, soon followed suit.  By the 1980s, the company’s original patents had expired and other outfits started making knock-off versions of the hook and loop fasteners.  Not surprisingly, it has made a point of protecting its trademark; legally only the original company can make VELCRO.

One organization that has changed its mind on VELCRO is the U.S. Army.  The fasteners used to be part its standard uniforms, but when soldiers complained that the constant dust and sand in places like Iraq and Afghanistan clogged them so much that they lost their stickiness and also that they could be noisy at times when silence was critical, the Army switched back to buttons.

As for de Mestral, his invention made him a rich man.  He died a multi-millionaire in 1990 at the age of 83.  Nine years later, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

More slices of history

"The Pill" arrives:  May 9, 1960

First U.S. heart transplant:  May 3, 1968

First hit workout video: April 24, 1982

First LSD hallucination: April 16, 1943

**The Twinkie invented: April 6, 1930