Bob Gore, 1937-2020

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Bob Gore. (Photo: W. L. Gore & Associates).

Robert W. Gore, inventor of Gore-Tex, the rubberised waterproof/breathable fabric, died last Thursday (17th) aged 83. Gore’s fabric invention was used in the manufacture of the company’s revolutionary pipe bag products in the 1980s, which quickly proved popular with pipers and pipe bands. Essentially, the fabric lets water/moisture out while keeping air in – and the bags are maintenance-free.

Gore is also credited with inventing white PTFE seal tape that many pipers use on the tuning slides of their drones.

Bob Gore was an American engineer, scientist and philanthropist who led his family’s company, W. L. Gore & Associates, in developing applications of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) ranging initially from computer cables to medical equipment to the outer layer of space suits. The idea for a synthetic bagpipe bag came from a worker at the company’s factory in West Lothian, Scotland. The company began selling the bags in 1988, and won a U.S. patent on its innovation a year later.

Gore was born in Salt Lake City, Utah with the family relocating to near Newark, Delaware in 1950. His father, Bill, worked for DuPont and Robert would experiment at home with some of the materials his father brought home. The collaboration soon resulted in PTFE-insulated ribbon cable containing multiple copper conductors, later called Multi-Tet Cable.

Gore’s parents created W. L. Gore & Associates in 1958 and for the first two years, the business was run out of the basement of their home. Bob was elected to the board of directors of W. L. Gore & Associates in June 1961, while still a student at the University of Minnesota. In 1963, he completed his graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, earning an MS and then a PhD in chemical engineering.

In 1967, Gore became the company’s technical and research leader. In 1969, he invented PTFE pipe thread tape almost by accident.

By 1971, Gore was experimenting with laminates, combining the stretched membrane with supporting materials for added strength. The resultant material – a waterproof laminate called expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), now trademarked as Gore-Tex – proved useful in medical applications because it is nearly inert inside the body. In addition, the porosity of Gore-Tex permits the body’s own tissue to grow through the material, integrating grafted material into the circulation system. The first report of using Gore-Tex to make waterproof, breathable garments appeared in 1972.

Gore became president and CEO of the company in 1976, replacing his father. The company retained its base in Newark, Delaware, but expanded worldwide including in Scotland where in the mid-1980s the suggestion was made to use the fabric to manufacture pipe bags. Initially developed in 1987 with consultation provided by Bob Shepherd MBE, the bag became the first ever synthetic pipe bag on the market, a concept that would later be copied by several other manufacturers.

In 2009, his company sold the pipe bag-making arm of its operation to Canmore Pipe Bags Ltd. All of Canmore’s staff, including Managing Director, Iain Smith, had worked for W. L. Gore making the bag. Mr Smith’s company set up premises in Whitburn, West Lothian where it remains today. The company manufacturers the CANMORE® Pipe Bag. In 2015 the company launched its Hybrid CANMORE® Pipe Bag which is constructed using its the GORE-TEX® fabric but with a hide outer layer, giving the feel and weight of a hide bag.

In 2000, Gore stepped down as president, becoming chairman, a position he held until 2016. Gore received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2001 and was inducted into the American National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.