The inventor of the Polaroid received his inspiration while on a sightseeing trip with his family to the Grand Canyon. Not to be outdone, the French electrical engineer George de Mestral received his inspiration for Velcro while on a hunting trip through the Alps. Mestral noticed how the burrs kept getting stuck to his clothes and wondered if he could replicate and commercialize this natural wonder somehow. Examining the burrs under a microscope, he noticed they clung by means of tiny hooks that would latch on to anything with loops or weaves, such as hair, clothing, or animal fur.
On this day, April 2, in 1978, Mestral’s patent for Velcro expired, and the market for his valuable invention was cracked wide open. Velcro was named by combining two French words — Vel for velvet and Cro for crochet.
It took Mestral about 10 years to perfect the mechanical process to make Velcro. Early designs wore out quickly, and he was saved only by the accidental discovery that nylon sewn under infrared light formed tiny, indestructible hooks. Still, when he brought Velcro to market, most potential buyers balked — the material looked cheap and unappealing. Velcro was first picked up by NASA for use in spacesuits, and then made its way to scuba drivers and skiers before breaking through into the common market.