- George de Mestral
George de Mestral (June 19, 1907–February 8, 1990) was an
electrical engineerwho invented Velcro.
Born in Colombier, near
Lausanne, Switzerland, de Mestral designed a toy airplane at age twelve and patented it. He attended the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. After graduation in 1930 he worked in the machine shop of an engineering company. He worked on inventing Velcro for ten years starting in 1941. In 1951 he successfully patented Velcro, selling 60 million yards (about 55,000 km) a year. It was a multi-million dollar company.
His father, Albert, was an agricultural engineer. George was married three times: to Jeanne Schnyder in 1932, Monique Panchaud de Bottens in 1949, and Helen Mary Dale.clarifyme On his father's death in 1966, de Mestral inherited the family home at Colombier,
châteauSaint-Saphorin-sur-Morges. He died in Commugny, Switzerland. Commugny has named an avenue, L'avenue George de Mestral, in his honor. [ [http://www.commugny.ch/index.php?pn=histoires/chemins.htm Les Chemins de Commugny] ] De Mestral was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Famefor inventing Velcro.
History of Velcro
In 1941 de Mestral first came up with the idea.cite book|last=McSweeney|first=Thomas J.|coauthors=Stephanie Raha|title=Better to Light One Candle: The Christophers' Three Minutes a Day: Millennial Edition|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=-1Vm4OZ1B44C&pg=PA57&dq=velcro+George+de+Mestral&lr=&client=opera&sig=Ry4mpDKgBKQhaqpToo9lpzWV42Y|accessdate=2008-05-09|year=1999|month=August|publisher=Continuum International Publishing Group|isbn=0826411622|pages=p. 55] cite web |url= http://www.velcro.co.uk/cms/History.6.0.html?&L=96581|title= About Us:History|accessdate=2008-05-09 |publisher=Velcro.uk] cite web|last = Stephens|first = Thomas |title = How a Swiss invention hooked the world|publisher = swissinfo.ch|date = 2007-01-04|url = http://www.swissinfo.org/eng/search/detail/How%20a%20Swiss%20invention%20hooked%20the%20world.html?siteSect=881&sid=7402384&cKey=1167927120000|accessdate = 2008-05-09] It 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
burdockthat 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.cite book|last=Strauss|first=Steven D.|title=The Big Idea: How Business Innovators Get Great Ideas to Market|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=F_yOHB54CxsC&pg=PA18&dq=velcro+George+de+Mestral&client=opera&sig=HZAGC4gb4R-JeDgd7d0n5LcYvaA|accessdate=2008-05-09|year=2001|month=December|publisher=Kaplan Business|isbn=0793148375|pages=pp.15-pp.18] 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.
Originally people refused to take him, and the idea, 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 cottonstrips that worked. However the cotton wore out quickly, so de Mestral turned to synthetic fibers. He settled on nylonas being the best synthetic, 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.
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
patentin Switzerland in 1951 and the patent was granted in 1955. Within a few years he had gotten patents and began to open shop in Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada. In 1957 he branched out to the textile center of Manchester, New Hampshirein the United States. Sales today exceed 100 million a year.
De Mestral acquired patents in each of these countries as he expected a high demand immediately. Partly due to its appearance however, velcro's integration into the textile industry took time. At the time, velcro looked like it had been made from left-over bits of cheap fabric, and thus was not sewn into clothing or used widely when it debuted in the early 1960s.cite book|last=Freeman|first=Allyn|coauthors=Bob Golden|title=Why Didn't I Think of That: Bizarre Origins of Ingenious Inventions We Couldn't Live Without|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=EVafPNDvWlYC&pg=PA99&dq=velcro+George+de+Mestral&lr=&client=opera&sig=0X45lJYm5hbPG8h9HCDS2RE8Gmc|accessdate=2008-05-09|year=1997|month=September|publisher=Wiley|isbn=0471165115|pages=pp.99-pp.104] Velcro got its first break when it was used in the
aerospaceindustry to help astronautsmaneuver in and out of bulky space suits. 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 get in and out of. Scuba and marine gear followed soon after.
When 1978 de Mestral's patent expired he tried unsuccessfully to update it, to prevent the flood of low-cost imitations.
"If any of your employees ask for a two-week holiday to go hunting, say yes."
* [http://www.swisscastles.ch/Vaud/chateau/stsaphorin.html "Le château de Saint Saphorin sur Morges"] at "Swiss Castles"
* [http://www.invent.org/Hall_Of_Fame/37.html Short biography] at
National Inventors Hall of Fame
* [http://www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/textes/f/F31519.php Short biography, birth/death locations] at the
Historical Dictionary of Switzerland
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE7D8153CF931A25751C0A966958260 New York Times Obituary] written by
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.