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To the Stars

by Gia Scafidi

In 2001, Gill, a 1937 USC chemical engineering graduate (pictured here with his wife, Hester), endowed the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Merwyn C. Gill Foundation Center for Composite Materials.

Merwyn C. Gill – founder of the world’s oldest existing manufacturer of reinforced plastics – has been named an honorary trustee of USC.

“M. C. Gill has demonstrated a level of philanthropic leadership and commitment that is exemplary,” said USC President Steven B. Sample in announcing Gill’s election.

“His generosity and steadfast dedication have been instrumental in helping the USC Viterbi School of Engineering achieve international recognition for its educational and research programs. It is an honor to permanently link his name to the university.”

In 1986, Gill — a 1937 USC chemical engineering graduate and member of the university’s Presidential Associates, Cardinal and Gold, Norris Auxiliary and USC Viterbi School’s board of councilors – endowed the M. C. Gill Chair in Composite Materials, currently held by engineering professor Stephen R. Nutt.

Fifteen years later, in 2001, Gill endowed the USC Viterbi School’s Merwyn C. Gill Foundation Center for Composite Materials, which Nutt also directs.

Over the years, Gill also funded an engineering postdoctoral fellowship, which bears his name, and received the USC Viterbi School’s Outstanding Alumnus Award. Gill’s expertise in the world of reinforced plastics dates back to 1945, when he started a company – known then as the Peerless Plastics Products Co. – out of his garage.

His initial effort was to market post-war consumer items, such as laminated place mats, lamp shades and plastic wall coverings. But after seven years of struggling – he was forced to run his business evenings and weekends while working a full-time day job in rocketry at Aerojet – his focus turned to composites, where larger opportunities existed in the aircraft industry.

Usually made from various hardened plastics reinforced with fibers, composites often replace wood, aluminum and other metal items because they are lighter and stronger. Today, composites are found in everything from fishing rods and wall coverings to bulletproof vests, satellites and parts used by the airline and aerospace industries.

Gill’s transition into composites was a success.

His company – the M. C. Gill Corp. – became a chief supplier to Douglas Aircraft, supplying cargo compartment liners for the DC-6 aircraft and beyond worldwide.

In 1948, the company developed a polyester-glass cloth laminate cargo liner for airplane baggage compartments, which became, and remains today, one of its bestselling items.

More than 55 years later, the M. C. Gill Corp. – based in El Monte, Calif. – is the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft cargo liners and a leader in passenger compartment floor panels for original equipment manufacturers and the world’s airlines.

With annual sales approaching $90 million, the company has larger research and development expenditures per sales dollar than anyone in the field.

Gill – who at age 94 still oversees daily operations – also concerns himself with his company’s non-airline products, such as in bullet-stopping laminate trailers, seats for exotic sports cars, tennis rackets and spacecraft.

He lives in Pasadena with his wife, Hester, who also is a member of the USC Viterbi School’s board of councilors.

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