Burdock has led an interesting life. While on holiday in Switzerland in the early 1940s, it bumped into Swiss inventor George de Mestral, while he was out hunting with his dog. As a result of this brush with destiny, on returning home, George spent a frustrating few hours trying to remove the Burdock’s burs from his clothes and his dog’s fur. He became sufficiently irritated with the tenacity of the Burdock seeds that he put a few under the microscope to try and figure out why the burs were so hard to pull off. The strange arrangement of hairs and hooks stayed in his mind and he began to see how it could be useful in the clothing industry. It took him until 1955 to make it work in a reliable, easy to manufacture product and to patent it.
Now, everyone knows that if you invent a better mouse trap the whole world (except for the mice) will beat a path to your door. Unfortunately for George, the world was quite happy with the current rodent control measures and it took to Velcro unenthusiastically. George spent a good few more long years, traipsing round from one textile manufacturer to another, from fashion house to fashion house, in France, Germany, Britain, and America, before he began to collect interested parties. It was really the astronaut’s complex space suits, made easier to put on and remove by the Velcro fasteners, that started things moving for him.
In As You Like It, Rosalind, the heroine says “How full of briers is this working-day world.” to which her BFF, Celia replies comfortingly, “They are but burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday foolery.”
Shakespeare could have invented Velcro if he’d put his mind to it.