Milka, Burrs and the Invention of Velcro

It was the pesky burrs in Milka's fur that led to the invention of Velcro.

George de Mestral and Milka

In 1941, George de Mestral (a Swiss engineer and inventor) and his dog Milka (an Irish pointer) went for a leisurely hike in the woods. After their walk, Milka was covered in burrs. This intrigued de Mestral, so much that he felt he could replicate the burrs' structure into something useful. After examining the burrs closely, he noticed they had microscopic hooks that allowed them to attach to his dog's fur. It was this discovery that led to his hook-and-loop fastening system. Creating the hook was not difficult, but it would take years for him to create the loop (nylon) for the hook to attach to.

He named his new invention Velcro®, a combination of the French words "velour" (velvet) and "crochet" (hook). He filed a patent in 1955, and marketed it as the "zipper-less zipper". It wasn't until the 1960s before it became a success when NASA adopted its use. Its popularity grew, and now has many uses in homes and businesses.


Caruso: A Pet Better Than Cows

Caruso was given to Helen, the daughter of William Taft (the 27th president of the US), because the White House cows weren't particularly fun pets.

Helen Taft holding Caruso and President Taft

President Taft had a couple of pet cows named Pauline Wayne (or "Miss Wayne") and Mooly Wooly - the last cows at the White House. When Enrico Caruso (the famous Italian operatic tenor) performed for the Tafts, he gave the President's daughter Helen a little dog, thinking this would be a more appropriate pet for a young lady. Helen happily accepted the dog and named him Caruso. According to Mo Rocca in All the President’s Pets: The Story of One Reporter Who Refused to Roll Over, Caruso had a bark that was "like a high pitch tenor" and "howled La Traviata."

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Dormie: A Rich Man's Dog Tried for Cat Murder

Dormie made history in 1921 when he was tried for the murder of 14 cats in San Francisco, California.

Dormie being paw printed before the trial

Dormie, a full-blooded Airedale, belonged to a wealthy man named Eaton McMillan. He was charged with killing 14 cats, the principal victim being Sunbeam (a Persian-Angora cat owned by Marjorie Ingals), and went on trial before a jury. According to the Los Angeles Herald, 21 December 1921: "It was the first time in the history of jurisprudence that a canine has been brought to trial for a capital crime. This was no matter for the city "pound" department, or the cruelty to animals commission. It was a real trial of a real dog on a real charge of murder." It was also reported that the court was uncertain whether to try him of 14 murders or 126 murders (taking into consideration the nine lives of each cat) and whether a jury of his peers should be dogs. "If a jury trial is agreed upon, only a jury of dogs can legally be employed. For only dogs are the equals of dogs." James Brennan, Dormie's attorney, said most Airedales were of a higher order than most men, so the question of equality was quickly dropped.

During the trial, Brennan had other Airedales, other breeds of dogs and Dormie come into the courtroom so Ingals could identify the culprit. She did identify Dormie, but the identification was set aside since he was the only dog that was escorted into the room by a policeman. The defense argued that Dormie was a friendly dog and was loved by many of the neighborhood kids. A character witness was even brought in, an Airedale named Rowdy - who was the brother of  Laddie Boy, President Harding's dog. Rowdy, who had been a personal bodyguard of a Persian cat for many years (and who mourned for days after the cat's death), was to show the jury that Airedales did not hate cats.

The trial ended with a hung jury. Eleven jurors voted to acquit, while only one wanted Dormie to receive the death penalty. Brennan filed a motion for dismissal. The Judge granted the motion, declaring that the San Francisco ordinance which put Dormie on trial was contrary to the Constitution of the state of California. According to the law at that time, a licensed dog had the right to roam free and unlicensed pets like cats did not. Therefore, if a wandering cat encountered a free-roaming dog, it was the cat's responsibility if harmed.