"It looked," wrote Field & Stream in 1977, "as though the centuries-long search for a waterproof-yet-breathable lightweight fabric had ended in complete success."
This was a year after Early Winters, a small company in Seattle, had released the first tent and the first jacket ever made with Gore-Tex. This gear was, to outdoor enthusiasts used to soggy sleeping and sweaty raingear, a revelation. Bigger companies had looked at Gore-Tex and passed it by; Early Winters gave it a try. In just a few weeks, the company had sold hundreds of its new tents and ended up buying most of the 10,000 yards of fabric Gore-Tex made that year.
Just few years earlier, Bob Gore had discovered expanded polytetraflouroethylene—ePTFE, the basis for Gore-Tex—in a Delaware basement. The material is essentially stretched out Teflon (which is what most of us call PTFE). At the time, the Gore company, owned by Bob Gore's parents, Bill and Vieve, was making Teflon insulated cables; by stretching the PTFE and adding air, the thinking went, the company might save money.
Bob Gore's attempts to heat and stretch rods of PTFE had been going badly—no matter how carefully he tried to stretch the material, it'd break. One evening in 1969, as he tells the story, he heated a rod and tried to opposite approach. He yanked it, fast. Instead of breaking, it stretched and stretched.