Serge Gagarin - Prince, racer, engineer, salesman
Serge Gagarin, who raced for Yale and went on to dual careers as an aviation engineer and a pioneer of aluminum skis, died on June 20 at age 95.
A scion of Russian nobility, Prince Serge Serge Gagarin was born in Bedford, New York, in September, 1918, less than a year after the Bolshevik Revolution. He attended the Harvey School, Choate and Yale, where, his obituary reports, he was captain of the ski team. Graduating in 1940, he studied engineering at the Casey Jones School at La Guardia Airport, then joined the Vought-Sikorsky firm in Stratford, Connecticut. Igor Sikorsky, another Russian émigré, made his reputation building large flying boats for Pan American Airlines, but in 1939 built the first viable American helicopter and by the time Gagarin joined the firm the emphasis was on developing the U.S. Army’s first helicopter, which flew in 1942.
Gagarin married Frances “Patty” Moore, a niece of Joseph Pulitzer. The couple settled in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Gagarin remained an enthusiastic skier, a fixture at Stowe and at the Johnny Seesaw’s lodge in Peru, Vermont (founded by another Russian, Ivan Sesow). Working at Vought-Sikorsky, he met Vought engineers Wayne Pierce, David Richey and Arthur Hunt, who were tasked in 1945 with creating an aluminum-wood laminate ski using the Metalite construction developed for the F6U Pirate jet fighter then in development. The factory built 1,000 pairs before the program was canceled.
In 1947 the three Vought engineers left the company and formed TEY Manufacturing to produce a patented hollow all-aluminum ski they dubbed Alu 60. Gagarin offered to use his skiing contacts to sell the ski, and organized his own distribution firm, 60 Sales. By 1950 TEY turned its full attention to developing Arthur Hunt’s new invention, the snowmaking gun. Gagarin took the Alu 60 design to Europe, where he replicated the patent in Switzerland and sold it to Adolf Attenhofer. Attenhofer had the ski manufactured in France, beginning in 1955, by Charles Dieupart, who sold it as the Aluflex for a decade, in Europe and North America, where it was distributed by Johnny Seesaw’s. In 1965 Aluflex was absorbed into Dynastar.
Remaining active in Vermont skiing, Gagarin in 1961arranged for Sikorsky helicopters to sling lift towers into place in time for Stratton Mountain’s launch. He retired from Sikorsky in 1967 and joined his wife in a thriving antiques dealership. They were longtime ISHA supporters.
Prince Sergei is survived by two sons, Andrew and his wife Missy Gagarin of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and Charles of Carson City, Nevada; and two grandchildren, Sasha Gagarin of Nashville, Tennessee and Serge Gagarin of Boston, Massachusetts. --Seth Masia
In case you were wondering, Serge Gagarin is not directly related to Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the cosmonaut who, in April 1961, was the first human to orbit the earth. Yuri Gagarin was descended from serfs owned by the Princes Gagarin. He died in the crash of his MiG-15 in 1968. --SM