Inventions need not emanate from a problem, but may as well come from a combination of conscious awareness (mindfulness) and curiosity about how things are connected. One of the more revolutionary everyday innovations was born this way.
On a summer day in 1941, the Swiss engineer George de Mestral was out walking in the alps with his dog. They were hunting and sometimes had to make their way through dense bushes. When they came home, de Mestral discovered a large number of burdock burrs stuck both on his clothes and in the dog’s fur. He was astonished at how efficiently they got stuck and curiously, he looked at them in a microscope. He then saw that the burrs on their surface had 100’s of small hooks that easily stuck to the fur or fabric. It gave him the idea of the Velcro strap, as a zipper without moving parts.
As so often, as it was a very long and laborious journey from the first idea to finished product. It was easy to find materials that stuck together, but finding combinations that would continue to do so despite years of use was more difficult. de Mestral tested a very large number of different materials and production methods before finding a solution that had small plastic hooks on one side and on the other side a nylon material with thousands of small microscopic loops. It took almost ten years to refine the weaving machines that were able to manufacture the material at a large scale.
In 1955 De Mestral was able to patent its invention under the name Velcro®. The name comes from the French velour and crochets (hooks). In a few years, the product had conquered the world and has come to have a range of uses that the Mestral never dreamed of. Velcro® has been used by NASA for astronauts’ space suits and inside the space crafts to attach objects to different surfaces. The product was also used to hold the heart together during the very first heart transplant. The US Army uses a more developed product in its uniforms, which made it possible to reduce the noise when pulling the band by 95%.
However, Velcro® was not the Mestral’s first invention. At the age of 12, he had invented a model aircraft and later in his life he invented both a hygrometer for measuring humidity and an asparagus peeler.