"You surely know the famous story about George de Mestral’s 1941 hunting trip in Switzerland - while walking his dog in the mountains, he accidentally brushed up against some cocklebur plants, and by the time he got back home, dozens of the round, spiky seeds were clinging to his wool trousers (and his poor dog’s fur).
What you don’t know is how hard it was for de Mestral to translate that natural stroke of genius into man-made one. He quickly figured out why the seed were so sticky by examining them under a microscope - the spikes each ended in tiny hooks that grabbed onto fabric and fur and wouldn’t let go. (Photo: Francoise and Charles de Mestral, aps.org)
But it wasn’t until 1952 that de Mestral made a serious effort to mimic the cockleburs’ hooks using different types of fabric. He quit his day job and raised $150,000 in venture capital, an enormous sum at the time. He also joined up with a textile weaver from Lyon, France - the only weaver who thought the idea would actually work. The pair’s first attempt, using cotton, was a failure. But nylon, sewn into tiny hooks under bright infrared light, worked much better. He dubbed it "Velcro" after velvet and "crochet," the French word for "hook."
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