Robert I. Schattner, a dentist-turned-inventor who created Chloraseptic, a popular sore-throat medication, and the medical disinfectant Sporicidin, died Jan. 29 at a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 91.
The cause was kidney disease, said a family friend, Sidney Bresler.
In 1952, Schattner was a dentist in Queens, New York, when a casual encounter at a cocktail party led to his most noteworthy invention. One of the guests wondered if dentists could offer anything to relieve the residual pain from having teeth extracted.
“I began to think about it on my way home,” Schattner told The Washington Post in 2008.
A onetime chemistry major at City College of New York, Schattner began to experiment with phenol, a mild anesthetic. After months of late-night work, he found a formula that eased soreness in the mouth and the throat.
“It was trial and error,” he told The Post. “I was trying to get an antiseptic mouthwash for extractions. That was my whole thought. I was never thinking of a sore throat.”
He tested his solution, which he called Chloraseptic, in laboratories and dental offices and was encouraged by the results. With his father filling bottles in the basement, Schattner distributed free samples to dentists and later to pharmacists.
As Chloraseptic began to catch on, Schattner gave up his dental practice in the late 1950s and moved to Washington, where one of his brothers worked as a lobbyist.
He introduced D.C.-area doctors and dentists to Chloraseptic, and sales rose from $6,000 in 1957 to “substantially above $1 million” six years later, according to a 1964 Washington Post article. He set up a bottling operation and a nationwide distribution network. Chloraseptic became available in liquid, spray and lozenge form and proved effective in alleviating sore gums and sore throats.
“One survey last year, conducted by Dental Survey magazine,” The Post noted in 1964, “listed the product No. 6 among approximately 105 commercial mouthwashes which dentists recommend to their patients.”
In 1964, Schattner sold Chloraseptic to Norwich Pharmacal for $4 million and 10 percent of the product’s sales for the next 15 years. Chloraseptic is now owned by Prestige Brands.
Schattner continued to develop other germicidal products, including spray disinfectants, fabric cleaners, carpet shampoos and a solution to eliminate mold and mildew. In 1978, he patented Sporicidin, a chemical sterilizing agent that became widely used as a disinfectant in medical and dental offices. Schattner formed a company to produce and sell the product, and by 1990 he controlled as much as 25 percent of what was called the “cold sterilant” market.
The Environmental Protection Agency had approved Sporicidin for use, but another regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, had not. In December 1991, federal marshals came to Sporicidin’s offices in Rockville, Maryland, and seized the company’s inventory.
“These products do not work,” FDA commissioner David A. Kessler said at the time. “Doctors, dentists and other health professionals should stop using them.”
Schattner was forced to stop manufacturing Sporicidin, but similar disinfectants on the market were not affected.
“There is no question these products are safe,” Schattner said in 1991. “I don’t understand what’s going on. For 14 years these products have been used in hospitals, and there has not been one case of infection associated with them.”
After years of legal wrangling, the FDA eventually cleared Sporicidin for use as a sterilizing agent but not before it had lost much of its share of the market. Schattner sold the business in 2008.
Isaac Schattner was born June 4, 1925, in the Bronx. His father was in the garment industry.
In his youth, he played drums in a band with his brothers at resorts in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
After graduating from City College, Schattner went to dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his dentistry degree in 1948. During that time, he legally changed his first name to Robert. He worked for the U.S. Public Health Service before opening a dental practice.
A longtime baseball fan, Schattner joined an effort to buy the Washington Senators from owner Robert Short in 1971, the team’s final year in the District.
“We put a deposit down,” Schattner told The Post in 1985. “It was a good-faith offer. However, (Short) never honored the offer. He kept the team and went to Texas.”
Two years later, Schattner and other partners attempted to purchase the San Diego Padres and move the team to Washington, but the deal fell through. In 1976, he joined Theodore N. Lerner - the current principal owner of the Washington Nationals - in a failed effort to land a baseball expansion franchise.
Schattner owned a substantial portion of the Virginia Squires in the old American Basketball Association in the 1970s, then in the 1980s was part of a failed bid to buy the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League. In 1999, he was a principal investor in an effort to buy the Washington Redskins led by John Kent Cooke - the son of onetime team owner Jack Kent Cooke. They lost out to the current owner, Daniel Snyder.
“Always the bridesmaid,” Schattner said of his many thwarted attempts to own a sports franchise in his adopted home town.
His first marriage, to the former Henrietta Hilden, ended in divorce. His second wife, the former Kay Ferrell, a onetime Washington journalist and radio show host, died in 2009 after nearly 40 years of marriage. Survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Ronald Schattner of Potomac, Maryland, and Richard Schattner of Rockville; two stepdaughters, Kay Mikula of Oakton, Virginia, and Deborah Fedynak of Richmond; and five grandchildren.
Schattner, who lived for more than 50 years in the same house in Bethesda, served on the boards of several banks and was a major benefactor of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital. He also donated more than $15 million to the University of Pennsylvania’s dental school, where a clinic and a major building bear his name.
“I can attribute my success,” Schattner said in 2015, “to a combination of serendipity, luck and perseverance.”