Robert W. Gore, the inventor of Gore-Tex who turned the Delaware-based W. L. Gore & Associates into a billion-dollar company, died Thursday at the age of 83.
Gore, who went by “Bob,” is best known for his 1969 discovery of a versatile polymer, the first breathable waterproof fabric. He introduced the world to the Gore-Tex technology in 1976. Gore was president of the Newark-based company from 1976 to 2000.
Gore “paved the way for advancements in industries as varied as performance fabrics, medical devices, space exploration and filtration, assumed the chairman emeritus role in 2018 after 57 years of service on the Gore board, 30 of those as chairman,” the company said in a statement announcing his death.
Gore became a billion-dollar enterprise in 1996. Then, Gore said, “We plan to leave a legacy to society and to future generations: infants with surgically reconstructed hearts that live because of our medical products; governments of free societies that are better able to protect themselves because of defense products; communities with cleaner and healthier environments because of our filtration and sealant products; And yes, people that just have more fun in the outdoors because of our Gore-Tex Outerwear.”
The Delaware company was in many ways launched by an act of frustration, provoked by a tinge of curiosity.
To make plumber’s tape at a low cost, Bill Gore asked his son Bob to figure out how to stretch PTFE, known to many by DuPont’s commercial name, Teflon.
Bob spent hours in a lab on Paper Mill Road in Newark slowly pulling heated rods of PTFE. They broke every time.
Then one night, pretty late, after hours of unsuccessful attempts, Bob yanked his last rod of PTFE as hard as he could. The result was stunning.
The rod expanded the length of his wingspan without any change to its diameter. He soon discovered the properties of the expanded PTFE, which became known as ePTFE, went beyond cost-saving. It is stronger than PTFE and porous while holding unique microstructures.
“Bob was always one to try something simple, not plan for huge elaborate experiments,” Greg Hannon, W.L. Gore & Associates’ chief technology officer, said last year. “We have literally thousands of materials that we’ve made all with an idea in mind to achieve a certain outcome.”
The company celebrated the 50th anniversary of Gore’s discovery last year.
Beyond allowing Gore to become a worldwide enterprise in 15 industries and more than 25 countries, the principals behind the chance discovery — hands-on learning, curiosity and risk-taking — became the basis for Gore’s guiding philosophies.
“It was truly a pivot point in this company’s history,” Hannon said. “Without which we would be much less significant of an organization than we are today.”
Gore received many honors throughout his career, including the Society of Plastics Engineers John W. Hyatt Award for benefits to society through the use of plastics and the Perkin Medal for innovation in applied chemistry resulting in commercial development from the Society of Chemical Industry (American Section). He also was an active member of the American Chemical Society and the 2019 Carothers Award recipient (Delaware Section).
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Gore was born in 1937 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the oldest of five children of Wilbert L. (Bill) and Genevieve W. (Vieve) Gore, founders of W. L. Gore & Associates. Bill joined the DuPont workforce after World War II and ultimately was transferred to DuPont’s Experimental Station in Delaware, where the family moved in the ’50s.
The family purchased land in Newark and started building a house with help from Bob and the rest of the Gore family. Bob led a “rather ordinary teenage life,” the company said in its press release, “playing trombone, participating in athletics, and serving in student government.”
Gore then earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware and his master’s degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
As a sophomore in college, he solved an early technical challenge that helped kick-start his parents’ company, which was founded in 1958 in the basement of their Delaware home.
With a focus on exploring the untapped potential of the fluoropolymer PTFE, Gore served the wire and cable industry during its early years. In 1969, the company’s cable technology landed on the moon as part of the historic Apollo 11 mission.
In 1976, Bob succeeded his father as president and CEO of Gore. Under his leadership, the company’s technological achievements flourished.
“Bob Gore appreciated that innovation can arise from many different places if entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged and fostered,” Gore CEO Jason Field said in a statement. “Innovation as activity, doing things with your hands, experimenting, testing and observing, was instilled in our Enterprise consistently and productively throughout Bob’s tenure as both president and chairman.
“I am sure I speak for all Associates when I say I grew as a leader through Bob’s guidance. 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.”
Gore was also a noted philanthropist. He served as a trustee of the University of Delaware Research Foundation and a member of the school’s board of trustees.
In 1998, Bob and his mother donated funds for the construction of a classroom building on the university’s green, which was christened Gore Hall in honor of his family. In 2013, Bob and his wife, Jane, contributed to the development of the university’s science and engineering research laboratories, named in their honor. Bob also has contributed significantly to the University of Minnesota and other institutions.
“Bob’s innovative spirit shaped our Enterprise from the very beginning, paving the way for W. L. Gore & Associates to improve lives and industries,” said Bret Snyder, Gore’s nephew and current board chair. “We will continue to build on his legacy with a commitment toward breaking new ground and developing solutions that make the world a better place.”
Gore is survived by his wife, Jane, and a large family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as four siblings and extended family.
“Bob was a generous humble man who was devoted to his wife and beloved by his children,” Jane said in a statement. “His innovative spirit grew W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. into the Enterprise it is today. He will be missed by the family and many others.”
His eldest son, Scott, said: “Dad played many roles within Gore: Scientist, engineer, businessman, president, chairman of the board, and mento. He eschewed titles and although he held a doctoral degree in chemical engineering, he always insisted that people address him as ‘Bob.’
“Mostly, Dad thought of himself as an Associate, and wanted to be part of an enterprise that improved the human condition through products such as medical and pollution control devices. He greatly admired and always credited the work of thousands of fellow Associates for building Gore into the company it is today. His family, friends, and fellow associates will miss him dearly for his love, devotion, dedication, and sincere interest in their wellbeing.”
Memorial plans are yet to be announced.
Reporter Brandon Holveck contributed to this story.
Contact Jeff Neiburg at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Gore-Tex technology inventor Robert W. Gore dies at 83