They’ve gone to the Moon. They’ve sent probes to Mars. They even have a space probe, Voyager 1, which launched in 1977 and has now entered interstellar space.
But did you know NASA also popularized the use of Velcro?
Yes, that material that kids use to tighten their shoes. That material that other items stick to – that is, if they also have been covered in Velcro. The material used by party rental companies such as Air Fun Games in New Port Richey in popular Velcro wall rentals.
But how did Velcro go from NASA astronauts to your kids shoes and, ultimately, to cool walls you can jump on and stick to? And does the history of Velcro really include a Swiss engineer, astronauts and David Lettermen?
Yes, it does. Read on.
A lot of interesting things came out of Switzerland. Thing such as zip fasteners, vegetable peelers, Nescafe, the bobsleigh track, cellophane and law that provide for extreme secrecy in banking. They also get half-credit for the Internet, invented at the CERN laboratories by British citizen Tim Berners-Lee.
Add to Velcro to that list.
Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral invented Velcro after hunting in the Jura Mountains and wondering if he could create something that stuck to him like burrs do. He eventually came up with Velcro. The name comes from combining the French words for velvet and hook, velour and crotchet.
Although patented in the 1950s, the popularity of Velcro did not exactly take off. Then, NASA got ahold of it.
On the Apollo mission in 1969, astronauts used Velcro to attach to items they didn’t want floating away in zero gravity. That include pens and notepads and anything else they didn’t want to chase around the capsule.
The astronauts mentioned the product and millions watched it in use. Things took off.
Medical staff began using it on blood pressure monitors (still do, you may have noticed) and automobile makers started using it to attach mats to floorboards. In airplanes, Velcro helped attach seat cushions. By the late 1960s, Puma started offering shoes with Velcro fasteners. Others quickly followed.
Fashion designers began using it, too. Eventually, people found a way to use the material for entertainment.
In 1984, late night talk show host David Lettermen interviewed the chairman of Velcro Co.’s United States division. The whole thing was a great set up for what happened at the end. Letterman, wearing a Velcro-covered suit, jumped off a trampoline and landed on a Velcro wall
Not surprisingly, people wanted to do that. Soon the Velcro walls popped up everywhere, even Velcro wall jumping contents in bars from New Zealand to New York City. By 1992, the New York Times was writing about the phenomenon, including contests where people attempted to land upside down on the wall after leaping off the trampoline.
Why? More like, why not? “It’s just neat,” one person told The Times. “It’s like parachuting in reverse.”
Velcro walls remain popular to this day. Air Fun Games version features a large, Velcro-covered wall. Those who use it, like Letterman many years ago, wear a Velcro-covered suit. They launch off an inflatable platform and onto the wall.
It’s all as fun as it was years ago and certain to liven up any party. And next time you use a Velcro wall, you can think about that long-ago Swiss engineer, astronauts and people finding a new, fun way to spend a night out.