Velcro: The Accidental and Physically Painful History

Lifejackets, wall fixtures, Nerf guns, orthopedic shoes: all things that make life just that much better and all things that rely on the magical properties of velcro hook and loop fastening systems. Which you might know by the more ubiquitous brand name, Velcro®. Because when you call something "Velcro," you're referring to a very specific product created exactly 65 years ago today by one Georges de Mestral—and his revolutionary idea was a total accident.

Velcro's journey began in Switzerland in 1941, when de Mestral went off on a casual hunting trip with his dog and both of them got covered in obnoxiously prickly cocklebur plants in the process. Instead of stewing in what surely must have been a frustrated rage as he struggled to peel the pernicious little bastards from his skin, de Mestral channeled his energy into using their powers for good.

And as simple as Velcro may seem, it wasn't until seven years of research later that de Mestral was able to emerge in 1948 with his magnum opus in hand: two strips of fabric, one with thousands of minuscule hooks and the other with just as many, equally tiny loops. Being reminded of both velvet and crochet, which doesn't seem quite right but hey, it's his invention, de Mestral combined the two words to create what you now know as Velcro (which in no way refers to the general product but rather the VELCRO® Brand, as the company's website is more than happy to point out).

Velcro: The Accidental and Physically Painful History

Initially marketed as a general binding material, the product didn't really take off until NASA swiped it up in 1967 and sent it off on Apollo 1 as a convenient way to keep their astronauts' possessions within reach. Perhaps its most famous use, though, was keeping astrowatches tight and close at hand.

Velcro: The Accidental and Physically Painful History

Though while other NASA-propelled products' popularity died a quick and much-deserved death (see Tang), Velcro stuck around (I'm sorry). For better or worse, in the intervening decades everything from watchbands to sneakers to hospitals to unattractive wallets got the hook-and-loop treatment.

So the next time you're fastening up what may or may not be a genuine VELCRO® Brand product, be thankful that a Swiss man and his dog covered themselves in painful little balls, all to make your life just a little bit better. [About.com, Velcro.com]

Image: Shutterstock/Juerg Schreiter