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Gilmore Schjeldahl, 89; Pioneer Inventor of Electronics, Plastics

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Gilmore Schjeldahl, 89, an electronics and plastics pioneer whose inventions changed many industries and made an early contribution to the U.S. space program, died Sunday at his home in Lenox, Mass.

Schjeldahl founded five businesses in Minnesota, of which the best-known is Sheldahl, which was named G.T. Schjeldahl Co. when he started it in 1955. Its first major success was a bag-making machine developed for Continental Can Co. That led to his experimentation with the flexible polymer Mylar, which he used to make high-altitude research balloons and air-supported buildings.

In 1960, his company built Echo I, a 100-foot-diameter balloon satellite sent into orbit by NASA. It was then the largest object ever fired into space, and its success bolstered NASA’s reputation and advanced coast-to-coast communications in the United States.

Schjeldahl, a North Dakota native, held 16 patents, including one for a lamination technique that produced Northwest Airlines’ first plastic-lined airsickness bag.

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