It’s RIP-time for Velcro in the US Army

July 4, 2010, 2 Comments

Many Swiss inventions have conquered the world, but perhaps none more successfully than the hook-and-loop fastening system, usually called Velcro. Unlike milk chocolate and those little red army knives, it’s not something instinctively associated with Switzerland. Great for strippers’ trousers, children’s shoes, and Nasa spacesuits – but Heidi’s gingham dress? Not really. It’s almost as if something that useful and mundane couldn’t possibly come from the land of triangular chocolate and holey cheese. Then again, this is the land that gave the world the Toilet Duck, as this earlier post showed. In fact, Velcro is a very Swiss creation, one that does what it’s supposed to and doesn’t make a big deal about it.

It all began with one man and his dog. Monsieur Georges de Mestral, a native of Canton Vaud, came back from walking his faithful friend covered in burdock seeds. Far from getting irritated by all the burrs sticking to his clothes, he inspected them under a microscope and decided to invent a man-made version. That’s the sign of true genius – producing an extraordinary idea from an ordinary moment. And as befits all great inventors, he wasn’t taken seriously at first but never gave up. By 1955 he’d patented his invention as ‘Velcro’, a contraction of ‘velours’ and ‘crochet’ (French for velvet and hook respectively). It’s just such a shame he didn’t also invent an easy way getting all the dust and hairs out of the hooks.

And that inability to stay clean – sand and Velcro is not a winning combination – is one reason why the US Army is apparently ditching Velcro as the main pocket-fastener on its uniforms (according to this recent USA Today report). That and the tell-tale ripping sound every time Velcro is opened: a surefire way to let the Taliban know where you’re hiding. So it’s RIP for the strip that rips and welcome back the humble button, which is silent and never gets clogged. Not to mention almost $1 per uniform cheaper, which adds up to quite a lot when you have 180,000 soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan and just the ticket for these austere times. I only hope that all those GIs can sew on a new button when needed.

2 Comments on "It’s RIP-time for Velcro in the US Army"

  1. Kelly Sunday August 8th, 2010 at 05:36 PM · Reply

    I love having velcro straps on all my children’s shoes. It makes my day a lot easier.

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