30_W.L. Gore & Associates

Plastics, indeed. Gore has spun a fortune from constantly reinventing the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene. In its 50th-anniversary year, the $2 billion-plus private company is on pace for record revenues and profits, thanks to a number of clever new products with a lot of potential.

Its inLighten window screens are made with a plastic polymer (not with fiberglass or metal). They not only let more light in but also are easier to clean. The most common size is three times more expensive than a traditional screen, yet vendors such as Pella are selling them in bunches. To create its Optifade camouflage for high-end hunting-gear maker Sitka, Gore researched how deer and other ungulates see. The result combines a macropattern to break up symmetry with a micropattern that lets the wearer blend into the background. And a still-unnamed fire-resistant material greatly reduces heat transfer, is self-extinguishing, won't melt on the skin, and can add fire resistance to nylon or polyester without losing their benefits. The military is its first intended market, but it's not hard to imagine police, fire, and other emergency services adopting the material.

How does Gore succeed? "We start at the top of a market and work our way down," says Jack Kramer, global technology leader and a 26-year Gore veteran.

The next 50 years, then, may be as enlightening as the first.

1958

Gore is born in the founder's basement. Its first product: Multi-Tet insulated wire and cable, used primarily in the defense and computing industries.

1976

The company's best-known product, Gore-Tex fabric, first goes on sale as part of tents and rain gear.

1992

Gore's next big consumer breakthrough: no-shred dental floss. Gore sold Glide to Procter & Gamble in 2003 but still manufactures the fiber for the floss.

2001

The medical division releases the Helex Septal Occluder in Europe, Africa, Australia, and South America to treat atrial-septum defects in children, which would otherwise require open-heart surgery.

2008

Introducing new materials that allow such products as: inLighten window screens, optifade camouflage, and a new flame-retardant laminate.

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