The Happy Accident that Launched a Brand
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Like many great ideas, GORE-TEX product technology was discovered by accident and with a little bit of collateral destruction.


In 1969, Bob Gore, son of Bill and Vieve Gore, who owned W.L. Gore & Associates in Delaware, was working with the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, to insulate wire and cable. "This material had all sorts of wonderful properties," says Gore, "but it was very hard to make anything out of it. It wouldn't melt and be thermoplastic enough to be formed by normal techniques." After trying and failing to expand a heated rod of PTFE by pulling it apart slowly, Gore, like anyone who's ever felt more than a little frustrated, yanked on it abruptly. "I was frustrated because everything I seemed to do worked worse than what we were already doing," says Gore. "So I decided to give one of these rods a huge stretch, fast—a jerk." To his shock, instead of breaking, the polymer stretched and expanded. And the GORE-TEX brand was discovered. issue01-thelab-bob In being pulled apart, the PTFE expanded to reveal a material filled with billions of tiny pores. Gore was immediately reminded of his many hiking trips, sweating it out in rubber boots and raincoats. Could this expanded polymer (ePTFE) be the answer to every hiker's wish—a waterproof, yet breathable fabric? As of yet, nothing like it was on the market. Bob Gore was poised to revolutionize an industry. As of yet, nothing like it was on the market. Bob Gore was poised to revolutionize an industry." Which isn't to say there weren't a few other bumps in the road along the way—which just led to further refinement of the product. For instance, while camping with his wife, Gore lined the exterior of their tent with GORE-TEX fabric to protect it from the rain. What they didn't expect was to be caught in the midst of a hail and rain storm. With nowhere to seep out, the weight of the accumulated water destroyed the material and began to flood the tent, resulting in a very wet yet very enlightening vacation. Gore now knew how to adhere the product for guaranteed dryness, and it launched the beginnings of a now arduous product validation process. In 1976, Gore introduced GORE-TEX fabric commercially to the North American audience. Since then, the GORE-TEX brand has worked closely with trusted companies to create new, innovative outerwear and top-quality gear. Guess that's why they call them "happy" accidents.


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