Customers. Employees.Technologies. Capabilities. All have played essential roles in successfully shaping what Gentex Corporation is today, and how the privately-held, family-owned company has evolved over the past 100-plus years. Our philosophy of continually reinvesting in our employees, our customers, and our capabilities and technologies, reflects the positive growth of our people, business intelligence and market share.
Today, Gentex is a global provider and partner of choice for personal protection and situation awareness products, systems and platforms. More specifically, the company encompasses aircrew life support systems, helmet mounted displays, ground soldier protective equipment, high-performance textiles and communications equipment; and has seven U.S. locations—Carbondale, PA; Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Manchester, NH; Aurora, IL; Millwood, NY; Billerica, MA; and Boston, MA.
Weaving Successes From The Beginning
Gentex’s capabilities and technologies have evolved significantly from its early silk fiber lineage as the Klots Throwing Company of Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Originally located in New York, the company's silk throwing plant owned by Henry Durrell Klots burned down in 1894. In response, Klots' bookkeeper, Marcus Frieder, suggested rebuilding the company's production facility in Carbondale, PA, to engage an untapped workforce - the wives and daughters of local coal miners. Klots agreed and named Marcus Frieder manager of the new plant. He was eventually promoted to General Manager and, upon Klots' death in 1914, was named President of the company.
Shaping Future Business
During World War II, in addition to producing parachutes, General Textile also began manufacturing boxes to store and protect its parachutes during transport. These boxes were constructed of a new cotton fabric reinforced composite-structure. As material science developed, these early composites soon began to utilize fiberglass reinforcing materials with early structural resins. These consisted of a cotton fabric reinforced mat, impregnated with a polyester resin which hardened to become a very high-strength, low-weight structure.
Following the war, the government approached the company to determine the feasibility of using this same textile composite to manufacture helmets for the pilots of the new jet fighters being introduced throughout the military. In response, General Textile Mills produced its first hard shell helmet using its textile composite technology in 1948. The helmet, known as the H-1, was made for the U.S. Navy and the P-1 soon followed for the U.S. Air Force. Eventually this same technology was incorporated into helicopter pilot helmets for both military and commercial applications, as well as ground and tank crew ballistic helmets.
Later, in 1969, Protection, Inc. of Pomona, California was acquired. Originally a custom helmet manufacturer, Gentex’s California facility was eventually transitioned into the design and manufacture of aircrew respiratory products. Relocating to Rancho Cucamonga in 1992, the company’s respiratory systems capability continues to lead globally in the design and manufacture of oxygen masks, chemical and biological respirators and associated products.
Because of an ongoing need to advance the art of eye and face protection, Gentex added a small optics R&D capability, located in Dudley, MA. What began as a unique and highly specialized application for aircrew protection, evolved into Gentex Optics, Inc. the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of precision polycarbonate lenses for both civilian and defense applications. In 1995 Gentex Optics was spun-off to become part of ESSILOR, International; the largest prescription lens provider in the world.
More Creative, More Effective, More Agile
As a key contractor on virtually every major military Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) program over the past 20 years, Gentex established a new branch of the company, Visionix, in 2005 in direct response to our customer’s specific requirement for a Total Systems Integrator (advanced E-O plus Integrated Pilot Life Support expertise) for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Helmet Vision System (AHVS) Program. The team created to address this need has now provided a number of fully integrated HMD solutions for platforms that include: A-10 Thunderbolt, F-16 Viper, C-130, AT-6, KFIR, UH-72, etc.
Gentex has maintained a core competency in laser eye protection for over 30 years. In 2008, this expertise made a technological leap forward with the purchase of Holographic Optics, Inc. This unique capability, located in Millwood, NY, enables a systems approach to laser eye protection by combining dye, proprietary holograms and dielectric coatings as required to create high-transmission day/night LEP devices.
To accelerate its capabilities and technologies to provide even more sophisticated products to today’s and tomorrow’s modern war fighters across all types of combat fields, Gentex made three strategic acquisitions in late 2011 – InterSense, Billerica, MA; Artisent, Inc., and Ops-Core, Inc., both in Boston, MA. InterSense technologies enhance Gentex situational awareness solutions. Artisent’s design expertise complements Gentex’s current engineering capabilities. Ops-Core’s modular head protection products expand Gentex’s core offerings to include advanced solutions for worldwide Special Operations forces.
These latest investments reinforce the company’s continual commitment to reinvest in our employees, our customers and our capabilities and technologies, all with the goal of enhancing the performance of the Warfighter.