RELEASE DATE: May 21, 2015
Polyurethane Foam Association Honors Charles A. Yost for High Achievement in the Development of Foam Technology
LEICESTER, N.C. – Like Leonardo da Vinci and other great thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Charles Yost believed that humans are limitless in their capacity for development, that people should develop their knowledge and capacities as fully as possible. Charles dedicated his life to nurturing that quality in others while quietly working on his own diverse and impressive achievements. His life illustrates how one man's expansive dreams helped us venture into outer space, and cushion our return to earth - through the development of a now well-known product called viscoelastic foam.
Those who knew Charles as a boy in Detroit would not have been surprised at the speed at which his visionary mind would take flight, or the range of applications that would later spring from his mind. Early on, he distinguished himself as exceptionally bright, focused, and driven, with a fascination for astronomy, rocketry, and outer space. As president of the junior group of the Astronomical Society of Detroit, he constructed a telescope for his fellow high schoolmates to ponder the possibilities of the final frontier. And, before long, he helped create a way to enter that frontier.
As Charles wrote in 2001, "I first decided that a flying saucer could be designed to operate on electrostatic principles in 1950 when I was 17 years old. By that time, I had designed and fabricated a 10-inch reflector telescope and cover for an observatory. I then learned how to make and launch sophisticated rockets, and even tried my hand at making hydrazine propellant. You were allowed to do things like that in high school back then."
Before Charles completed his degree in aeronautical engineering at Northrop University, he was called into service by the Army, but that didn't stop him from designing and building an underwater free-flight sailplane and a ram jet engine while he was serving his country. After finishing college, he moved on to teams designing advanced fighter aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and antiballistic missiles, culminating in the parachute recovery system design for NASA's Apollo Project. It was now the early 1960s: the Great Space Race was underway and everything was focused on putting the first man on the moon. You might say that his work literally took off.
His connections with NASA led Charles into the world of polyurethane foam. Recruited by NASA contractor Stencel Aero Engineering in Arden, North Carolina, he began to study and design airline seats for pilots and passengers that would improve the odds of surviving a crash. In the basement of his Asheville home, Charles started experimenting with chemical formulations for an open-cell, polymeric "memory" foam that provided unusually high energy absorbing properties while maintaining softness and pliability. This new material contoured to the shape of whatever was pressing against it, returning to its original shape when the pressure was removed.
In 1969, the year we landed on the moon, Charles formed his own company, Dynamic Systems Inc., to produce and sell what he called "Temper® foam."1 The company made Temper foam for a few years then sold the formulation in 1974. Charles improved the formulation to create two subsequent generations of viscoelastic foam called "SunMate®" and "Pudgee® 2". The pressure-reducing capabilities of these new materials quickly found applications in many industries, from the military to medicine to motorsports and more. Consider just a few: orthopedic seating pads, mattress toppers, and custom-molded seats for wheelchairs that gently support the user and evenly distribute seating pressure to alleviate pressure points and maintain blood circulation. Comfortable prosthetic cushioning that breathes, preventing heat buildup. Equine prosthetics and saddlery to comfort horses. Energy absorbing inserts for race cars that help drivers walk away from serious crashes. Motorcycle seats to reduce backaches, stiffness, and numbness on long rides. Crash pads and motion shock absorbers for military vehicles. Obstacle course balance flooring that helps train astronauts for return to Earth's gravity. The list goes on, earning Charles Yost a spot in NASA's Space Technology Hall of Fame in 1998.
While Yost's foam technology was becoming widely used in military and space applications, Charles was investing more and more time helping others and promoting peace initiatives. He had zero tolerance for using technology for destructive purposes. He was proudest of SunMate's, Pudgee's, and Liquid SunMate's many applications in the medical field, which accounts for about 80 percent of his company's business. To Charles, nothing served a higher purpose than helping others. Though SunMate seat cushioning is used in many industries, what mattered most to Charles was how SunMate's energy absorption and pressure relief properties improved health and comfort for wheelchair users. And he was proud of the company's Pudgee foam, a product designed to prevent pressure ulcers with a unique texture and soft, pliable dough-like consistency. Until you've actually felt Pudgee, it is impossible to describe how irresistible it is to touch.
Due to their unique sensory properties, SunMate and Pudgee also caught the attention of the art community. In 1995 and 2002, the visco foams were featured in two major art exhibits in New York City; the first, at the Museum of Modern Art, was entitled "Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design". The second featured Pudgee in an exhibit entitled "Skin: Surface, Substance and Design" at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.
From an employee's perspective Charles was an extremely loyal and generous boss, who recognized and rewarded workers. As an early profit-sharing advocate, he shared the financial fruits of his labor and his company's success, along with his contagious smile, his clever sense of humor, and his time. He mentored student projects in the arts, science, business, and marketing. He founded his own scientific journal for those interested in electric propulsion to help connect garage tinkerers, amateur experimenters, and armchair theorists around the world, with the hope that their collective efforts might someday propel us even further toward a more efficient means of space travel. As "far out" as that sounds, Charles was fully grounded, and ever-cognizant of the day-to-day needs of his fellow travelers here on earth. Charles died at the age of 71 in 2005 of pancreatic cancer.
Charles A. Yost was posthumously recognized for his contributions to the development and marketing of viscoelastic foam and inducted into the Flexible Polyurethane Foam Hall of Fame by the Polyurethane Foam Association on Thursday, May 21, 2015, in St. Petersburg, FL. His son Robin Yost, president and CEO of Dynamic Systems, Inc., received the award on the family's behalf.
1 Temper® Foam is a registered trademark of Patterson Medical Holdings, Inc.
2 SunMate®, Pudgee®, and Liquid SunMate® are registered trademarks of Dynamic Systems, Inc.