VELCRO: The Humble Origins of the Greatest Thing to Ever Happen to My Sneakers

iStock
iStock

You may know the famous story about Swiss engineer George de Mestral's 1941 hunting trip in Switzerland—while walking his dog in the mountains, he accidentally brushed up against some cocklebur plants, and by the time he got back home, dozens of the round, spiky seeds were clinging to his wool trousers (and his poor dog's fur). What you don't know is how hard it was for de Mestral to translate that natural stroke of genius into a manmade one.

He quickly figured out why the seeds were so sticky by examining them under a microscope—the spikes each ended in tiny hooks that grabbed onto fabric and fur and wouldn't let go. But it wasn't until 1952 that de Mestral made a serious effort to mimic the cockleburs' hooks using different types of fabric. He quit his day job and raised $150,000 in venture capital, an enormous sum at the time. He also joined up with a textile weaver from Lyon, France—the only weaver who thought the idea would actually work. The pair's first attempt, using cotton, was a failure. But nylon, sewn into tiny hooks under bright infrared light, worked much better. He dubbed it "Velcro" after "velvet" and "crochet," the French word for "hook."

De Mestral seemed to be on his way to a huge success, and large-scale production finally began in the mid-50s. But the fabric didn't actually make it to market until a decade later, and when it did, it flopped. It was extremely useful but also extremely ugly—a hard sell given that de Mestral mostly envisioned it being used on clothes. High-end designers wouldn't touch the stuff. The only group that found it appealing was the burgeoning aerospace industry—astronauts didn't want to fiddle with zippers and laces while trying to get in and out of their spacesuits, and they also needed a way to keep their various personal items and food from floating away in zero gravity. (The association with NASA later popped up in the 1997 movie Men in Black, which short-shrifts de Mestral by claiming Velcro was actually invented by aliens and adapted for Earth use.)

By the time people figured out that Velcro could also be hugely useful on everything from kids' shoes to watchbands, de Mestral's patent was close to expiring, and factories in Taiwan and Korea were churning out similar stuff. Today, if you use Velcro as a generic term, you'll make some Velcro executives very unhappy. The word has been Xeroxed, or, if you prefer, Kleenexed—the company would much prefer that you use the generic "hook-and-loop" unless you're referring specifically to their brand.

George de Mestral, by the way, wasn't just the inventor of Velcro. He also received a patent for a toy plane at age 12 and went on to design a hygrometer (which measures air humidity) and an asparagus peeler not unlike the kind that's "As Seen On TV."

This passage was written by Mary Carmichael and excerpted from mental_floss Presents In the Beginning.

Swear Off Toilet Paper With This Bidet Toilet Seat That's Easy to Install and Costs Less Than $100

Tushy
Tushy

The recent coronavirus-related toilet paper shortage has put the spotlight on the TP-less alternative that Americans have yet to truly embrace: the bidet.

It's not exactly a secret that toilet paper is wasteful—it's estimated to cost 437 billion gallons of water and 15 million trees to produce our yearly supply of the stuff. But while the numbers are plain to see, bidets still aren't common in the United States.

Well, if price was ever the biggest barrier standing in the way of swearing off toilet paper for good, there's now a cost-effective way to make the switch. Right now, you can get the space-saving Tushy bidet for less than $100. And you'll be able to install it yourself in just 10 minutes.

What is a Bidet?

Before we go any further, let’s just go ahead and get the awkward technical details out of the way. Instead of using toilet paper after going to the bathroom, bidets get you clean by using a stream of concentrated water that comes out of a faucet or nozzle. Traditional bidets look like weird toilets without tanks or lids, and while they’re pretty uncommon in the United States, you’ve definitely seen one if you’ve ever been to Europe or Asia.

That said, bidets aren’t just good for your butt. When you reduce toilet paper usage, you also reduce the amount of chemicals and emissions required to produce it, which is good for the environment. At the same time, you’re also saving money. So this is a huge win-win.

Unfortunately, traditional bidets are not an option for most Americans because they take up a lot of bathroom space and require extra plumbing. That’s where Tushy comes in.

The Tushy Classic Bidet Toilet Seat.

Unlike traditional bidets, the Tushy bidet doesn’t take up any extra space in your bathroom. It’s an attachment for your existing toilet that places an adjustable self-cleaning nozzle at the back of the bowl, just underneath the seat. But it doesn’t require any additional plumbing or electricity. All you have to do is remove the seat from your toilet, connect the Tushy to the clean water supply behind the toilet, and replace the seat on top of the Tushy attachment.

The Tushy has a control panel that lets you adjust the angle and pressure of the water stream for a perfect custom clean. The nozzle lowers when the Tushy is activated and retracts into its housing when not in use, keeping it clean and sanitary.

Like all bidets, the Tushy system takes a little getting used to. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to use toilet paper again. In fact, Tushy is so sure you’ll love their product, they offer customers a 60-day risk-free guarantee. If you don’t love your Tushy, you can send it back for a full refund, minus shipping and handling.

Normally, the Tushy Classic retails for $109, but right now you can get the Tushy Classic for just $89. So if you’ve been thinking about going TP-free, now is definitely the time to do it.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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