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George de Mestral

Big Thinkers

A man and his dog went for a walk in the woods. When he returned home he invented something that is now used worldwide and worth millions.

George de Mestral was interested in invention from an early age – at just twelve years old he designed a toy aeroplane and patented it. Little did he know that he would one day file a patent that would be worth millions.

Much later, when he had settled down into a career as an electrical engineer, de Mestral liked to walk with his dog in the Alps. One day when he returned home, he brushed off some burrs (seeds) of burdock plants that had stuck to his clothes and his dog’s fur. His curiosity led him to examine them under a microscope, where he saw their hundreds of “hooks”.

A short leap of imagination led him to the early designs for what we know today as Velcro.

The story highlights some interesting points to consider in terms of creative thinking:

Play

De Mestral’s creative mindset meant that he was open to noticing interesting things. Returning from his walk he noticed that the burrs stuck to both him and his dog. They wouldn’t brush off easily. It always happened. Something was going on here.

His curiosity then led him to ask: Why did they stick? They weren’t sticky like glue – there was no residue or tackiness, so something else must be making that happen. What could it be?

He put the burrs under a microscope and saw many little hooks, which made them stick. Again, this was a creative mindset thing – he wasn’t interested in the biology (the fact that sticking helped the burrs travel and pollinate over wider territory, for example), he was just playfully curious to find out how they did that.

And his final creative mindset leap – this was a new way of sticking – could it be useful elsewhere? He patented the idea long before many of today’s applications emerged. He surmised that the general principle – so fascinating to him – could be interesting to others.

Produce, Develop

Other factors come into play in de Mestral’s discovery – notably persistence in developing the idea into a product, working on his ideas for years, prototyping and testing.

Some Velcro Factoids:

  • Velcro was filed under U.S. Patent 2,717,437 on October 15, 1952.
  • The word Velcro is a portmanteau of the two French words velours (“velvet”), and crochet (“hook”).
  • The first Velcro sample was made of cotton, before being replaced by Nylon and polyester.
  • The term Velcro is commonly used to mean any type of hook-and-loop fastener, but remains a registered trademark in many countries used by Velcro Industries to distinguish their brand of fasteners from their competitors.
  • The invention of Velcro is an example of biomimicry.

Watch the videos below for the official introduction to Velcro from Velcro Industries, plus a fun guide to making your own Catch + Toss game.

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