10 of History's Happiest Accidents

George de Mestral got the idea for Velcro after some burrs stuck to his dog while out walking. Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Thinkstock

In 1984, every kid in America had a pair of Reeboks with three sweet Velcro fasteners instead of lame laces. But decades before Velcro kicks became a full-blown fad, Swiss engineer George de Mestral took a fortuitous walk with his dog in the foothills of the Alps. Returning home, de Mestral noticed that his dog's fur was covered in prickly burrs.

Naturally curious, de Mestral examined the burrs under a microscope to see how nature pulled off this sticky trick. The culprits were tiny hooks on the surface of the burrs that attached to loops of fur on the dog's coat. De Mestral was an electrical engineer by trade, not a fashion designer, but he spent the next eight years researching and developing a clothing fastener based on his accidental discovery [source: Suddath].

De Mestral's first hook-and-loop prototype was made from cotton, then nylon. He named his product Velcro — a combination of "velvet" and "crochet" — and debuted the invention at a New York fashion show in 1959 [source: Cyran and Gaylord]. The fashion industry ignored Velcro until the high-tech fastener caught the attention of NASA engineers. Adhesive-backed strips of Velcro were perfect for securing tools and toothbrushes in zero gravity. Shoemaker Puma was the first to put Velcro on sneakers in 1968, and you can find it on a plethora of objects today [source: Cyran and Gaylord].