Meade Alger Gougeon
“People started buying epoxy from us. I could see a need for the product.”
September 25, 1938 - August 27, 2017
Birthplace: Bay City, Michigan
In 1966, Jack Knights wrote this about Race 1 of Yachting magazine’s One-of-a-Kind regatta: “Meade Gougeon’s trimaran had pruned weight, aerodynamic drag, and hull resistance to a degree that it was slipping through the water, sails always close-hauled, tacking upwind and down like an ice boat while all others were becalmed. The A Scow took 3:55:20 to complete the eight mile course. Gougeon was home in 51 minutes less. It was enough to write a new chapter in the history of sail.”
Meade Gougeon, founder of Gougeon Brothers, says he first learned about epoxy resins from pattern maker, sailor, and boat builder Vic Carpenter. “Epoxy revolutionized pattern making,” Gougeon says. “They were gluing Honduras Mahogany with resorcinol, and having to clamp it for two weeks. If there was a crack, often caused by over clamping, it ruined an expensive job. With epoxy you didn’t have to clamp it that hard. It filled gaps, and it dried overnight.”
One day in the late 1960s, Herb Dow walked into the Gougeon’s Bay City, Michigan, boat shop. Dow was the grandson of Dow Chemical’s founder. He bought two ice boats. “He saw us using epoxy,” Meade says, “and said the world’s biggest epoxy lab – Dow Chemical -- was a few miles down the road in Midland. Herb sent someone over to talk with us, and I became a bench chemist.”
There was a lot of chemical experimentation involved to achieve the behavioral characteristics Gougeon wanted: minimal shrinkage, no odor, a variety of drying times. By 1969 the formulas he’d arrived at were well-kept secrets. “People started buying epoxy from us,” Meade says. “I could see a need for the product.”
As builders, the Gougeons pre-coated everything that went into a boat with their epoxy formulation to stabilize the wood. They named their epoxy WEST SYSTEM.
When his middle brother Joel, a decorated pilot with 130 combat missions in Vietnam, came home with money he’d saved to buy a house for himself and his wife, Meade saw a live one. “I told him $10,000 would buy him a third of Gougeon Brothers. He said okay. His wife didn’t speak to me for five years, but it turned out alright.”
As he approaches his 80th birthday, one of Meade’s interests is the annual 300-mile Everglades Challenge in small boats. Complete it in 8 days, and you get a shark’s tooth necklace and a paddle. Gougeon has won his class the past two years.
- Roger Vaughan