Velcro is a brand name, two layered system of fabric hook-and-loop fasteners. There is a “hook” side, which is a piece of fabric covered with tiny hooks, and a “loop” side, which is covered with even smaller and “hairier” loops. Pressing the two sides together will cause the hooks and loops to catch and hold the pieces together. The hooks and loops can be made of various materials, although the first was made of cotton, which turned out to be impractical. Today the most common material is either Nylon or Polyester. On space shuttles they use Teflon loops and polyester hooks with a glass backing. The alternatives to Velcro are buttons, zippers, laces, and buckles.
George de Mestral, the inventor of Velcro also named it. Velcro is now a registered trademark in most countries. However, the Velcro trademark is genericized as the term is commonly used for all hook and loop fasteners regardless of manufacturer. Mestral got the idea from the burrs that caught in his dogs’ fur and he realized the potential for use in simple fashion. He had a hard time getting his idea taken seriously but was lucky enough to have a weaver make two cotton strips that worked. Mestral found that the cotton wore out quickly and decided that nylon would work better. Since Nylon doesn’t break down, rot, attract mold, and can be produced in various thicknesses it was the perfect fit. He eventually figured out that under infrared light he could make the hook side with nylon but still didn’t have a mechanized way of making the fasteners.
It wasn’t until 8 years later that a mechanized process was developed. He finally submitted his patent in 1951 and in 1957 he was operating in a textile center in the US. Word was eventually spread about the “zipperless zipper” and Velek, Ltd took on the exclusive rights to market the product in North and South America and Japan.
Mestral was quick to obtain patents in many countries since his expectations of Velcro were so high, however, due party to its appearance it took time before the textile industry really took notice. Since it was made of cheap fabric and sewn onto clothing it was viewed as impractical. The space industry gave Velcro its first major break by using it in space suits. Soon after skiers, scuba divers, and eventually children’s clothes came onboard. Many people think NASA invented Velcro due to it being the first major user of it.
In 1978, when de Mestral’s patent expired there was a flood of low-cost imitations. De Mestral was inducted into the national inventors’ hall of fame. De Mestral’s invention was so great because he took something already common, the hook and eye fastener, and shrunk the scale to make something new and different. Velcro is strong enough that a two inch piece can support a 175 pound person. Of course, this depends on how well the hooks are embedded in the loops, the surface area contact with the hooks, and the nature of the force pulling it apart. Velcro is strongest when attached to two rigid surfaces.
Through increasing the area of the bond, ensuring force is applied parallel to the plane of the fastener, and increasing the number of hooks and loops per unit one can maximize the strength of the bond of Velcro.
Since Velcro is easy to use, safe, and maintenance free, and has a minimal decline in effectiveness after using it has become popular. The tearing noise it makes is a deterrent to pickpockets. It does however have its problems. It accumulates hair, dust, and fur. It can attach to loosely woven clothes which might be damaged when the Velcro is removed. Even given those disadvantages Velcro has been used for just about everything where a temporary bond is needed. It is popular for children’s shoes and in clothing designed for people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and the infirm. Velcro was even used during the first artificial heart surgery.