Gentex is a privately held company that focuses on the manufacture of U.S. and international military, special forces, commercial, law enforcement, emergency medical services and First Responder Personal Protective Equipment products, as well as aluminized fabrics, Lifetex Fabrics, Clearweld, Filtron, and Precision Polymer Processors.
The Gentex Corporation began operation as the Klots Throwing Company in Carbondale, Pennsylvania in the late 19th century. Initially located in New York, the silk throwing plant burned down in 1894 and the company established a new facility at Carbondale to use the untapped workforce of wives and daughters of local coal miners.
During World War I, Klots manufactured silk cartridge bags under the direction of President Frieder. However, Rayon was introduced as an alternative to silk in the 1920s, and by the beginning of the Great Depression, the company was forced into bankruptcy.
In 1932, Marcus Frieder and his son Leonard bought and reorganized Klots, renaming it General Textile Mills. Upon the entry of the United States into World War II, the company began manufacturing parachutes for the U.S. Military. Eventually, it became one of the largest manufacturers of parachutes in the country, producing parachutes for cargo and carrier pigeons, as well as a special aluminized option that could reflect radar.
During that same period, General Textile Mills began manufacturing its own composite-structure parachute boxes from fiberglass mat impregnated with a polyester resin that would protect packaged parachutes. Following the war, the government approached General Textile Mills to determine the feasibility of using the same composite-structure to manufacture pilot helmets.
General Textile Mills produced its first hard shell helmet using the parachute box technology that same year. 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. These technologies were quickly incorporated into helicopter pilot helmets for both military and commercial applications, as well as tank crew helmets.
In 1958, General Textile Mills shortened its name to Gentex.
Significant advancements in the aircraft industry resulted in the need for oxygen-breathing equipment for life support. In 1969, the Frieders bought Protection, Inc., a helmet manufacturer in Pomona, California. Ten years later, Protection Inc. began to acquire equipment in order to manufacture respiratory products.
In 1977. Gentex bought the Derry, New Hampshire based JMR Systems Corporation As a result of this acquisition, Gentex was able to expand its capabilities to include the manufacture of electro-acoustic products.
The creation of the respiratory and electro-acoustic products business units, along with the existing helmet systems division and a group dedicated to the advancement of materials, resulted in the company's ability to produce totally integrated systems for tactical applications.