As the developer of GORE-TEX, Robert Gore helped to revolutionize the outdoor clothing and sport footwear industries. Gore is a chemical engineer and academic who invented a compound known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in 1959. Gore had originally envisaged PTFE as an ideal insulating material for electrical wires and cables. He experimented with PTFE and discovered that when heated, PTFE could be stretched and expanded, creating fibers that could be woven into a fabric that was chemically inert and therefore resistant to any degradation due to heat, cold, wind, or ultraviolet rays. This expanded form of PTFE was first discovered by Gore in 1967. Gore continued with his research with a goal to make the fabric commercially viable. Gore's invention was subsequently marketed as a clothing fiber under the brand name GORE-TEX. The manufacturing process was patented in 1972, with the first commercial sales of GORE-TEX made in 1976. Of all American patents issued since 1975, the GORE-TEX patent is one of the ten most-cited patents in applications received at the United States Patent Office.
GORE-TEX is the best known protective fabricofits kind in the world, and the name has become the generic term for all manner of waterproof and windproof materials used in the manufacture of outdoor clothing.
Soon after its commercial introduction, GORE-TEX quickly became a popular material for use in all types of outdoor sports equipment, such as jackets, gloves, shoes, and boots, because it is both durable and waterproof. GORE-TEX is typically placed between an outer fabric and an inner lining. An important performance feature of GORE-TEX is that it is breathable; if an athlete wishes to wear layers of clothing that can be removed as required if temperatures change, GORE-TEX does not trap perspiration either against the wearer's skin or between itself and an interior layer of clothing; the moisture passes from one layer through the next. This process, used by outdoor athletes to achieve both comfort and protection from the elements, is known as wicking.
The ability of the GORE-TEX fabric to repel water was further enhanced by a polymer coating added in the manufacturing process that is designed to penetrate to the individual fibers. The polymer increases the ability of the fabric to cause water to bead and run off the GORE-TEX surface without being absorbed into the fabric or penetrating to the wearer below. In this fashion, the fabric assists in reducing the chances of the wearer becoming cold due to the effect of water making clothing damp and thus increasing the heat loss sustained by the wearer.
In recognition of his work in developing GORE-TEX, Robert Gore was inducted into the American National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.