April 20, 2011

William S Shore, 1921-2011

In the famous line from the 1967 movie "The Graduate", the character Mr. Maguire says to the young protagonist Ben - "I have just one word for you Ben - Plastics". Nearly 20 years before that, a brilliant young chemistry and medical student, William S Shore, at The Charles University in Prague was dreaming up ways to synthesize new chemical compounds, especially hormones, plastics and polymers, that would propel mankind into a new future of technological and medical achievement. William Shore turned those dreams into reality as the principal plastics engineer in the development of the Chevrolet Corvette body. In addition, he was one of the principal developers of the Clorox plastic bottle (1959) and the blow molding process by which it and the plastic milk bottle (1964) was created. In his later years, Shore's environmental concerns led him to create Home Environmental Products, a corporation devoted to lessening water waste and pesticide use in agricultural settings. A brilliant polymath and Renaissance man (Shore's family and friends refer to him as the Google search engine before Google existed - ask him any obscure fact and he would know it) Shore was also a world-renowned cosmologist andastrophysicist. Shore died of natural causes in Chatsworth California at 90 years of age on Friday, April 15, 2011.

Shore was the eldest of four sons, born into a Jewish family on February 26, 1921 in Czechoslovakia. After completing his undergraduate work in chemistry and physics Shore was taken to his first concentration camp in 1942 as a Jewish prisoner. Virtually all of the other Jews brought into this work camp died in the minefields, having been forced to walk in front of the advancing German fronts. Shore would always express his optimism as it was his destiny "to be at the right place at the right time". Shore had sustained a right hip injury that gave him a limp. The sergeant in charge of sending the young men out to walk long distances in front of the Army did not believe Shore could make the walk and kept him back at the camp to work there. Shore, and the rest of his family, was taken by train in the middle of the night to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His parents and one of the brothers and hundreds of relatives and friends perished in the camps. Shore survived the Holocaust, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Crakow-Plaszow (made famous in Schindler's List) concentration camps. Shore was then faced with a new threat when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948. Just before completing his doctorate, his visa to immigrate to the United States came through and took advantage of it making his way to Cleveland, Ohio.

The DuPont Corporation's famous advertising slogan" Better Things for Better Living . . .Through Chemistry" were his watchwords. His initial interest was in medical pharmaceuticals, specifically the development of synthetic steroids. In 1950 he worked on a process of synthesizing various 17 keto steroids at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. However, he made a decision to focus his chemical engineering brilliance on synthetic polymers useful in the industrial setting--specifically, plastics. He knew that theoretically polymers could be used for practically any purpose - from the early computer motherboards to automotive parts. He quickly became an expert in the following modification of plastic polymers to achieve very precise specifications required for industrial applications. In 1951, he
was hired as the director of research and development at the Dynakon Corporation in Cleveland Ohio. There, he perfected the art of creating plastic resins, specifically polyester,vinyl ester, and epoxies for use in fiberglass reinforced plastics.

Shore and Dynakon were at the right place at the right time in Cleveland Ohio, one of the major manufacturing centers in the United States in the post - World War II era. Its proximity to the big three Detroit automobile headquarters made it a natural for the subcontracting of automobile parts manufacturing. This became fortuitous for several Cleveland-based companies when General Motors saw the tremendous response to the original Corvette concept car at the New York auto show and decided to put it into production. Originally conceived in steel body, it was then decided at the last minute to produce the body panels in fiberglass reinforced plastics. This was done principally to save startup costs and provide the added benefits of a new technology and reduced weight.

In February, of 1953, Robert Morrison of the Molded Fiberglass Company in Cleveland received a $4 million contract for producing the 1953 and 1954 Corvette body panels. Morrison and company already had considerable experience in the production of fiberglass reinforced plastics but they were under significant pressure to achieve specifications necessary for automotive body panels that they had not previously produced. Morrison subcontracted with William Shore and his team at Dynakon to perfect the plastic resin. Initially there were many problems with the precise percentages of the Isothallic plastic resin, inert ammonium silicate, and fiberglass fibers. Eventually, Shore's engineering team developed the perfect resin blend. The final percentage was 41% plastic, 30% fiberglass and 29% inert silicate. The body panels were tested by GM engineers and found that they met all of their specifications.

On June 29, 1953 the first ofthe initial 300-1953 model Chevrolet Corvettes rolled off the assembly line. It was the first series production automobile made with a "fiberglass" body. Shore would always jokingly object to the designation of "fiberglass" body. He would say "after all it's 41% plastic and only 30% fiberglass". He much preferred another term of endearment for the Corvette body: "the plastic fantastic". To honor his work, Shore was offered one of the first 300 Corvettes at General Motor's invoice cost. His answer was "what am I going to do with the car with no backseat and a small trunk". When he found out that one of the early serial number 1953 Corvettes had sold recently for $1 million Shore said, "Like so many things in life, if only we knew then what we know now"! Shore had virtually no interest in automobiles - his focus was purely on the polymer material technology. Soon thereafter, Shore developed the plastic compounds for melamine dinnerware, structural building materials, plastic protective automobile side moldings, and many new applications used by the United States military.

In 1959, again at the right place at the right time, Shore was working on the development of highdensity polyethylene plastics. He realized that this material was far safer, lighter, and less expensive than glass or metal alternatives as containers for various liquids including milk or bleaches. Clorox .Corporation, the largest manufacturer of bleach in the United States, contracted with Shore to be one of their early producers of blow molded high-density polyethylene white Clorox bottles. Shore also helped to perfect the blow molding process for these applications. Five years later in 1964, these blow molded plastic bottles began to replace the glass milk bottle.

After a trip to Israel in 1981, William Shore's life was transformed. In this small country with no significant natural resources and little water supply, Shore saw the need to save water. A master photographer, Shore's prize-winning photographs were almost universally taken in nature. He published a book "Expressions of Nature Through Photography and Words", a compilation of his life's photographic work. His love of nature and the environment spurred his interest in the recyclability of plastic products as well as their potential for saving what he saw as the most precious product necessary for mankind: water, using plastics. He patented a production system for the use of plastic film of precise rigidity, flexibility, and porosity for the growing and storing of agricultural products. Fundamentally, his "plant packaging system" was a scalable combination of a greenhouse and terrarium that would preserve the water content and recycle it. In addition, it was a natural barrier to insects that would eliminate the need for pesticides and all of their environmental consequences.

Shore was a polymath and Renaissance man with a nearly perfect photographic memory. An incessant reader he became so expert in astrophysics and cosmology that he was elected president of the Cleveland Astronomical Society during the 1980s. Again, being at the right place at the right time was important for William Shore. In 1987, he worked tirelessly along with Case Western Reserve University personnel to create one of the most famous meetings of world prominent physicists: the 1987 Centennial Anniversary of the Michelson Morley Experiment. In 1887, the Michelson Morley experiment on the splitting of light was critical information for all the new physics, including Einstein's theories of relativity. This experiment performed by the Case Western Reserve University scientists has been called the "beginning of the second scientific revolution". Many Nobel prize winners attended the meeting including Murray Gell-Mann, Ph.D. Shore and Gell Mann discussed their mutual belief in string theory at these meetings and subsequently.

William Shore spent his final years studying writing and lecturing on his wide variety of interests. Of particular interest near the end of his life was proving that the biblical Genesis story and the Big Bang cosmological theory were expressions of the same reality and completely consistent. He famously said "if God wrote the Bible, he couldn't express it in terms of 20th century physics to people living thousands of years ago."

William Shore is survived by his first wife Carol Wilson Hudson and his second wife Erica Stux- Shore, two sons; Philip S. Shore, M.D. (wife Diana), and Robert M. Shore (wife Julie), and two grandchildren Adam Shore and Allison Shore.


Delphine7461 said...

wow!!! what a super story!!! amazing the things that non-famous people have done!! really interesting how our world was transformed by one man's curiosity and genius

Darren said...

Amazing, amazing. I wish I'd had an opportunity to speak with him. What a man...

Leah and Sergey said...

What an incredible life, I had no idea!
My condolences to you and your family. Hugs.

Unknown said...

When you think you know it all, you find that you are only beginning. Isn't that the truth.

Margie said...

Just when you think that you know it all, you find out that your only beginning. Isn't that the truth?

Anonymous said...

Although it was not mentioned in the write-up, I believe that this is the same William Shore who started the Unitane Corp. in Cleveland. Unitane was a plastic blow molding manufacturing operation that primarly produced plastic bottles for bleach, distilled water and detergent bottlers. We also produced automotive A/C drain hoses for Eaton Corp. I reported directly to Bill as QA Manager then later on as production & QA manager.
George Velbeck

runciblespn said...

Greg, I passed your comment on to my step-brother, Bill's son. Thank you for your comment.