Robert W Gore 1937-2020
American engineer, scientist, inventor and businessman Robert ‘Bob’ Gore – creator of the Gore-Tex water-resistant and breathable fabric – died recently at the age of 83. Having graduated from the University of Delaware in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, he went on to earn a PhD in the same discipline four years later. Mr Gore joined his father’s company – WL Gore & Associates – as a research associate, and in 1967 he became head of the technical and research team.
In 1969, Bob Gore was working on a process to stretch extruded polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) into pipe thread tape when he discovered how to expand the polymer into a microporous structure that was approximately 70 per cent air. He continued to investigate the properties of the new material, a patent application for which was filed on May 21st 1970.
Mr Gore conducted research into the production of sheets of expanded PTFE, and by 1971 he was investigating processes to combine the resulting stretched membrane with supporting materials to increase its strength. Based on this work, the company developed a waterproof laminate which is now trademarked as ‘Gore-Tex’. This laminate is typically placed between an outer fabric and an inner lining, and permits moisture to pass through. A polymer coating is also used to increase the fabric’s ability to repel water.
The manufacturing process was patented in 1972, and the first commercial sales of this product were made four years later. Bob Gore became president and chief executive of the company in 1976, when he took over the role from his father.
In 1981, Gore-Tex went into orbit, when it was selected by NASA for incorporation into space suits worn by the astronauts during the organisation’s first space shuttle mission. Today, Gore-Tex is well known for being marketed as a waterproof, breathable fabric used in sports footwear and outdoor clothing.
Commenting on the man behind this famous brand, company chief executive Jason Field said: “Gore associates considered Bob a leader, a mentor and a contributor to their personal success and the success of the enterprise. His passion for the quality and performance of our products and his incisive questions and insights shaped not only the culture of our technology efforts but the values at the core of who we are.”
This article was originally published on page 6 of the November 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.