George de Mestral Biography

Engineer, Inventor(1907–1990)
George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer best known as the inventor of Velcro®.  

Synopsis

George de Mestral was born in Switzerland in 1907. Trained as an engineer, de Mestral was inspired to invent Velcro® after examining burrs clinging to his clothing after a hiking trip. He began developing the fabric in 1948 and completed work in 1955, patenting his invention the same year. De Mestral died in Commugy, Switzerland, on February 8, 1990.

Early Life

George de Mestral was born in Saint-Saphorin-sur-Morges, Vaud, a small town bordering Lake Geneva near the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 19, 1907. A gifted student of science, de Mestral studied electrical engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. He worked as an engineer in a machine shop after his graduation.

Invention of Velcro®

In 1948, de Mestral happened upon his most enduring discovery while hiking. He and his dog returned from a hike covered in burrs from the plants along the trail. De Mestral examined the burrs under a microscope, studying their structure. He began working to develop a synthetic fastening system that mimicked the hooks and loops of the burrs.

The fabric went through a number of phases before it was finalized. De Mestral worked with a weaver in France to create hooks and loops strong and durable enough to cling together as he intended. Originally crafted from cotton, the fabric ultimately proved more successful when made out of nylon. In 1955, de Mestral unveiled his innovative new material: Velcro®. The name is a combination of the French words "velours" and "crochet," translated to English as "velvet" and "hooks."

After finalizing his nylon-based design, de Mestral immediately patented the material. He released his invention for commercial use in the late 1950s, marketing it as a "zipperless zipper." Despite its carefully conceived design, the product was not an immediate success. Velcro® did not become commercially viable until its adoption by NASA in the 1960s. The positive press received by the use of Velcro® in the space program led to its adoption as a clothing material. High fashion designers including Pierre Cardin gravitated toward Velcro® as a modern, space-age fabric.

De Mestral sold his rights to the Velcro® company once it achieved success. Today, Velcro® is a standard material used in households and businesses on a daily basis. The strong but durable bond of the fabric is particularly popular as a fastener for children's shoes and clothing. Although the original patent expired in 1978, Velcro® is still a trademarked term controlled by the Dutch Velcro® company.

Personal Life and Death

George de Mestral married three times over the course of his life. He died in Commugny, Switzerland, on February 8, 1990. A street in Commugny was named in his honor after his death. De Mestral was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999 for his invention of Velcro®.

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