Sol Rosenblatt

Born: July 27, 1929 | New York, NY, US

Sol Rosenblatt grew up in Brooklyn, New York, one of two children. Rosenblatt attended public schools and had a small chemistry lab in his basement. Despite the Depression, he was able to remain in school and attended City College of New York. Rosenblatt’s first job was with the City of New York, then worked for Heyden Newport Corporation; he met his wife, Vicky, during this time. The Rosenblatts moved to Sacramento, California, where at first Rosenblatt helped design his chemical lab facilities and began work on Polaris missile propellants. Moving back to the East Coast, Rosenblatt next took a job with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. Upon leaving Pratt, Rosenblatt received equity in Chemplasts Corporation, where his membrane technology for chemical filtration was developed. Next, he started Polytech Company, but faced hardships. Continuing his interest in the medical field, Rosenblatt developed semipermeable membranes for heart-lung machines. He then worked for Electro-Catheter Corporation developing and marketing diagnostic catheters. When he saw an opportunity, Rosenblatt developed a lint-free sponge based as a substitute for surgical cotton and co-founded Merocel. Thirty years later, Merocel is still used for many medical applications. Rosenblatt continues to invent and develop health care products.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0932
No. of pages: 125
Minutes: 310

Interview Sessions

Lee Sullivan Berry and Zack Biro
30 September 2015 and 22 October 2015
Interviewee's home, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Sol Rosenblatt was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, one of two children. His father was in the garment industry, his mother a housewife. The family was of Russian Jewish heritage. Rosenblatt attended public schools and was always interested in science. He had a small chemistry lab in his basement and liked especially to produce chemical effects involving colors. The Depression was hard on the family, but Rosenblatt’s father insisted that Rosenblatt remain in school and go to college. Rosenblatt followed a cousin’s example and attended City College of New York, which was well-respected and tuition-free. The curriculum was technical, with few electives used mainly for “resting.”
Rosenblatt’s first job, with the City of New York, involved assessing paint quality for city structures , before moving on quality control of cement for the new water tunnel. He developed a new water based enamel for the Ford Motor Company during his time as a paint chemist with Heyden Newport Corporation where technical management was Jewish. At that time, many of the chemical/drug companies were influenced by Germans and anti-Semitism was rampant. He met his wife, Vicky, during this time.
The Rosenblatts moved to Sacramento, California, where at first Rosenblatt helped designate his chemical lab facilities and began work on Polaris missile propellants; he developed an epoxy based propellant hoping to develop a safe and stable composition to contain hydrazine perchlorate oxidizer. Moving back to the East Coast, Rosenblatt next took a job with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, which had a contract to build a space capsule for the Apollo program. Fuel cells were necessary for power, so Rosenblatt developed high temperature membranes separators. Using membrane technology he also investigated producing potable water from the fuel cell’s production of water as part of the life support program for the astronauts. He also conceived of a method to achieve self-sealing of space radiators as a protection against potential meteorite collisions.
Upon leaving Pratt with his membrane experience Rosenblatt received equity in Chemplasts Corporation, where his membrane technology for chemical filtration, sensing instruments such as for gas detection, medical applications and cable wraps named Zitex was developed and marketed. Chemplast was sold to US Stoneware.
Next he started Polytech Company to refine Teflon waste, but a competitor burglarized his plant and stole his technical information. Continuing his interest in the medical field, Rosenblatt developed semipermeable membranes for heart-lung machines. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) brought in Brian Bellhouse from the University of Oxford to provide proper hemodynamic mechanisms for an oxygenator using Rosenblatt’s membranes. Alas, J&J shelved the product for business reasons and Rosenblatt brought a suit for loss of royalties and they were found guilty of unethical business practices. He then worked for Electro-Catheter Corporation developing and marketing diagnostic catheters.
Finding that J&J had legal difficulties over lint from gauze left behind in surgery, Rosenblatt saw an opportunity and invented and developed a lint-free sponge based on Christopher Wilson’s polyvinyl alcohol sponge technology as a substitute for surgical cotton and founded a company with an engineer at Edward Weck which was making cellulose products for microsurgery. They named the sponge Merocel. The company grew to over sixty employees in Mystic, Connecticut plus worldwide agents and Rosenblatt’s wife was manager of international sales. After many products based on the sponge in eye, ear, nasal and neuro surgery the company sold to Medtronic Corporation. Thirty years later, Merocel is still used for many medical applications.
Rosenblatt became aware of the need for infection control during his Apollo program experience and noting the rise of bacteria resistance to antibiotics he developed a wound healing dressing called Merodine. While at Merocel Corporation. It was comprised of an iodine complex with a polymer to control release iodine, a broad effective spectrum antimicrobial. The dressing was initially developed as an improvement for the soldier bandage tourniquet used in the battlefield as well as for chronic wounds. As superbugs continued to being a problem, he began further development of iodophors and is continuing inventing in this field.
Rosenblatt is proudest of his Merocel. He says he remains an optimist for the independent inventor though he has used more energy fighting to bring his inventions to market. Always trying to improve health care his mind never stops inventing.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
2017 City College of New York BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

New York City

1952 to 1955
Quality Control Paints & Materials Department of Water Supply

Heyden-Newport Corporation

1955 to 1958
Paints and Plastic Division, Paint and Polymer Chemist

Aerojet General

1958 to 1962
Solid Rocket Propellant Polymer Chemist, Polaris Program

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft

1962 to 1965
Materials Development Chemist, Advanced Power Systems and Life Support for Apollo Program

Chemplast Corporation

1964 to 1969
Director of Research, R&D/Teflon Materials

Amex Corporation

1969 to 1972
Technical Director/Teflon Recovery

University of Oxford

1972 to 1974
Consultant

Johnson and Johnson

1972 to 1974
Surgikos Division, Consultant

Procter & Gamble Company

1972 to 1974
Consultant

Electro-Catheter Corporation

1972 to 1974
Consultant

Merocel Corporation

1974 to 1990
Executive Vice President, Founder/Biomedical Products

Self-employed

1991
Consultant/Inventor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1965 to 1969

John C. Vaaler Award

1965 to 1969

Award of Merit-Materials in Design Engineering

1965 to 1969

Putnam Food Award

1969

Top Invention of the Year

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Brooklyn, New York. Father in garment industry, mother housewife; one sister. Russian Jewish heritage. Public schools. Always interested in science. Chemistry club and lab in basement. Especially interested in visual effects, colors. Father’s emphasis on education. Depression very hard on family; World War II’s advent increased economic activity.

College Years
5

Attends City College of New York. Technical curriculum; few electives for “resting.” Accepted at Chicago Medical School, but too expensive.

Entering Job Market
23

First job with City of New York. Invented water-based enamel for Ford Motor Company’s engines. New job as paint chemist at Heyden Newport Corporation. Importance of safety requirements. Wedding photography for extra income. Meets wife, Vicky, at New Year’s Eve party. Beauty of chemistry.

Polaris Program
38

Moves to Sacramento, California, to work on Polaris missiles. Builds chemistry lab on gold mine land. Urethanes as rubber substitute. Solid rocket fuel; too humid even in California desert; so developed epoxy. Sent to Aerojet-General Corporation in Ohio to make volume, but Germans still insisted on urethanes. Highly-explosive hydrazine perchlorate (HP) salts versus ammonium perchlorate. Project cooperative, innovation welcome. Work intense but self-obsolescing.

Apollo Project
51

Whitney & Pratt Aircraft Company. Building capsule for space program. Invent fuel cell membranes to prevent overheating. Develops membrane to filter waste water from fuel cell into potable water. Silver palladium foil from Hamilton Watch Company. Confluence of interests in machines, chemistry, materials. Dislike of Germans imported to work in US defense industry. Develops self-sealing device to cure holes in fuel cell caused by meteorites. Thermite chemistry. Freedom to try things. Q clearance.

Zitex
68

Porous membrane; beginning of new career. Working at home to make commercial. Teflon filter paper. Joined Chemplast Corporation. Company sold to US Stoneware. With a partner from business school started Polytech Company to refine Teflon waste. Technical information stolen by competitor. Develops semipermeable membranes for heart-lung machines. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) brought in Brian Bellhouse from Oxford to provide oxygenator for Rosenblatt’s product. Rosenblatt brought suit. Advises Proctor and Gamble on speeding up production. Devises angiogram catheters for Electro-Catheter Corporation

Merocel
86

Lawsuit against J&J for lint from gauze; invented lint-free sponge based on Christopher Wilson’s polyvinyl alcohol sponge. Good for microsurgery; founded company with Edward Weck. Merocel. Eventually sixty as well as worldwide agents in Mystic Connecticut. Invents many products for surgical applications. Sells company to Medtronic. Hires Tierno to test nasal tampon for toxic shock syndrome. Development of Merodine. Used more energy fighting to market inventions than to produce; discouraging, but still an optimist. Patent law improved. Likes to make something useful from theory; mind never stops inventing.

Index
124

About the Interviewer

Lee Sullivan Berry

Lee Sullivan Berry earned a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff member in the Center for Oral History, Berry conducts background research and oral history interviews, edits transcripts of completed interviews, and coordinates with interviewers and interviewees to finalize transcripts. She was the lead interviewer for the REACH Ambler project and has presented her work at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Zack Biro

Zack Biro joined our organization in March 2015. He is a program assistant in the Center for Applied History where he develops digital history and public history projects that connect our research with larger existing issues. Additionally, he assists the Center for Oral History with processing the oral history collection and helps organize Innovation Day each year. Zack is currently the director of communication for Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region. He received a history in religion studies and an MA in history from Lehigh University.