The comfortably dryRobert Gore

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Growing up, Gore’s father Bill worked at the DuPont (Chemical Co.) Experimental Station in Wilmington, Del., so perhaps it’s not surprising Bob studied chemical engineering. One of the materials Bill worked with in 1957 was PTFE — polytetrafluoroethylene, or Teflon, which DuPont scientist Roy Plunkett had invented, and he was having trouble getting it to work in the application he was pursuing: insulating wire. Bob, still a college sophomore, suggested using a different form of PTFE — and it worked: the company introduced Multi-Tet cable, which was used in the development of IBM’s System/360 mainframe computer. The company also made cables for the Surveyor moon-lander spacecraft, and in the Apollo lunar landers. Bob stayed in school until earning his PhD in 1963. Bill, meanwhile, formed his own company in the basement of their home: W.L. Gore & Associates, “established for the purpose of developing and utilizing technology in the field of fluorocarbon polymers, especially polytetrafluoroethylene,” which “have a great and undeveloped potential to contribute value to society.” They still make cables for NASA spacecraft.

Bob Gore “stretching” PTFE, c1970s (Photo: WL Gore & Assoc.)

The company had as many as 16 employees working — and living in! — the house. By 1967, Bob was the company’s technical and research lead. While working on PTFE to make tape to help thread and seal pipe joints, but was frustrated with how the experiments were coming out. In frustration he yanked on the tape, stretching it. He was surprised it stretched by 800 percent before it broke, but it had another odd property: it ended up being a “microporous structure” that was around 70 percent air. Gore tried sealing this resulted “expanded” PTFE to fabric to increase its strength, and discovered that it made a great water barrier, but still allowed the fabric to “breathe” — which made it comfortable to wear. They called the resulting fabric “Gore-Tex”. Bob Gore became president and CEO of the company in 1976, replacing his father, and built the company into a billion-dollar enterprise by 1996. He retired in 2000 to Chairman of the Board, and fully retired in 2018. Robert “Bob” Gore died in Maryland on September 17, at 83.

From This is True for 20 September 2020