Robert W. “Bob” Gore, chairman emeritus of the board of directors of W. L. Gore & Associates, died on Sept. 17 at the age of 83. Gore sat on the board of his family’s materials science company for 57 years, 30 of them as chairman, and served as president from 1976 to 2000. He was also the inventor of the material behind Gore-Tex.
The company now has more than 10,500 “associates” and generates annual revenues of $3.7 billion.
Robert Gore was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 15, 1937, the eldest of five children. In 1958, some 21 year later, Robert’s parents – Wilbert L. “Bill” and Genevieve W. “Vieve” Gore – founded W. L. Gore & Associates in their garage, devoting the early years to experimentation with a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Meanwhile, Robert was at school earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
By the late 1960s the company was working on materials for computing, space exploration and national defense. Some of its cables made with them went to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission of 1969. Meanwhile, Robert was extruding PTFE into pipe-thread tape, trying to stretch heated rods of the material. After many moves failed, he tried a yank – and exceeded his goal of a 10-percent stretch by three orders of magnitude. The result was a microporous structure with 1,000 percent expansion that the company has described as “mostly air.”
Expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) has since been used to produce the fabric now marketed under the name Gore-Tex, the first that can be used as a waterproof and breathable membrane for apparel and footwear. It has also gone into many other lines of the Gore company’s business, among them cabling, electronic components, filtration, sealants, venting and medical devices.
In 1996, under Robert’s presidency, the family company exceeded a $1 billion in value. Robert delivered at the time an optimistic encomium: “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.”
Robert Gore collected nine patents for his work with fluoropolymers. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and was awarded a place into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Gore’s current CEO, Jason Field. said about him: “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.”
He is survived by his wife, Jane; several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and four siblings.