Delaware firm that made spacesuits for Apollo moon crew celebrates 70 years

Sid Williams’ eyes began to well up as he recounted memories from his days as a draftsman working on the Apollo spacesuit in the ’60s.

After a lot of trial and error — and untold overtime hours at work — he was proud to see the finished product in action in 1969 when Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon.

“It was marvelous watching it on TV, around 10 of 11 July 20, Sunday night at home,” said Williams, who is now retired. “I just couldn’t believe we were part of it—it was great.”

On Tuesday, he relived those memories at the 70th anniversary celebration of his former employer, ILC Dover.

Workers at the facility in Frederica gathered to hear from Delaware’s political leadership—and even took selfies with spacesuits on display.

“We were so proud of ourselves and our country when we landed that first man on the moon so many years ago, and we knew the work Delawareans did landed that day on the moon as well,” said Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, who spoke in conjunction with Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, and state Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.

“If you think about it today, keeping a company vibrant and successful is a very difficult thing, because the world has changed so much and it’s so much more competitive than it’s ever been,” Carney said. “So when you talk about success in a company today and longevity, you have to be innovative and have a quality workforce, and that’s what has made ILC so successful for so many years.”

The International Latex Corporation was formed in 1932, and a portion of the business moved to Dover in 1939.

During World War II, the company almost became bankrupt as product demand declined and latex material availability became scarce with government ownership. But 70 years ago, in 1947, the government and military applications division of the International Latex Corporation was formed. It is the basis of LLC Dover today.

In the ‘50s, the company developed flight helmets that enabled Air Force pilots to survive in high altitudes.

In 1962, ILC Dover won a bid to build the Apollo spacesuit — and to this day, the company supplies all the EVA space suits used by NASA at the International Space Station.

The company’s recent developments include a water-resilient tunnel plug, which it was asked to produce after 9/11 to stop the flow of water from the Hudson and East Rivers in New York City should they ever be breached by an explosive.

Today, space and military are a small part of the company’s work, with about 70 percent of its business centered on commercial products.

ILC Dover is developing materials to protect individuals from diseases and other contamination, as well as products that protect pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical workers from potent agents. The company also produces inflatables for the military and homeland security.

ILC Dover CEO Fran DiNuzzo said he expects to see an uptick in the space program over the next 10 or 15 years as the U.S. explores deeper space.

“It’s always about taking materials, fabrics, laminates, films — and engineering them into solutions that can’t be solved easily with hard goods,” he said. “And we believe that core competency of the company is rather unique in the world, it’s something that will serve us well in the next 70 years.”

Retiree Williams said he also has big dreams for his former employer.

“I hope to live long enough to see a man on Mars with an ILC on its back — I hope to see that,” he said.

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