A History Lesson With Booze ®

Getting Stuck with Velcro

How a Swiss engineer devised a "space-age" fastener -- decades before we went to space -- thanks to an Alpine plant.

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John Moore Getty Images News

Great ideas don’t grow on trees – but sometimes they do grow on plants.

Take for example, the case of Mr. George De Mestral.  He was a Swiss engineer, and one day in 1941, he went on a hunting trip through the Alps. When he got home?  He noticed little burrs from a burdock plant stuck all over his clothes.

Mestral looked at the burrs under a microscope and learned their secret. They were bristling with tiny hooks.  Perfect for latching on to anything that bristled with little tiny loops. Like fabric. Or his dog’s fur.

Instantly, Mestral envisioned a product that mimicked this natural miracle: a two-piece fastener – one piece with hooks, one with loops – that would stick together with just a little firm pressure. Ten years later he had invented this “zipperless zipper.”  He called it “Velcro,” a conflation of the French words “velours” and “crochet” — aka “velvet hook.”

It was not an instant hit. Fashion designers thought Velcro looked… well, kinda janky. But when NASA started using it to help astronauts get into and out of bulky spacesuits, Velcro hit the mainstream. Soon it was on everything from skiwear to kid’s shoes. And Mestral was inducted into the Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

Velcro’s the most famous – but hardly the only – example of inventions inspired by nature.  After watching Kingfisher birds speed through water, designer Eiji Nakatsu shaped Japanese bullet trains like the bird’s beak.  And a new super-adhesive tape mimics the sticky hairs on the feet of Geckos.

Astro Grass

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski

Ingredients stuck together by Edward Aloise, co-owner of Republic Cafe and Bistro, in Manchester, NH, where Velco USA is headquartered.

  • 1oz Captain Morgan’s Rum
  • 3oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • .25oz green Chartreuse
  • .25oz Aperol
  • sprig of frisée

Over the Rum and OJ, pour first the Chartreuse, then the Aperol, over the back of a spoon, creating layers  (they’ll fuse together, Velcro-like, upon drinking).  Garnish with frisée – a plant bristling with little hook-like leaves.