Paul Hermann Müller was born at Olten, Solothurn, Switzerland, on January 12th, 1899. He started working in 1916 as a laboratory assistant and later worked as an assistant chemist gaining a wealth of practical knowledge. He matriculated in 1918 and earned his Doctorate in 1925. He began his career with J. R. Geigy A.G., Basle, in May, 1925, to become Deputy Director of Scientific Research on Substances for Plant Protection in 1946. Müller worked on vegetable dyes and natural tanning agents, synthetic tanning agents, and on pesticides. Four years of intensive work led to the synthesis of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in 1939 and the basic Swiss patent was granted in 1940.
Although DDT was first synthesized in 1874 by a Viennese pharmacist, Othmar Zeidler, he did not investigate the properties of the new substance but simply published his synthesis. Field trials of the compound resynthesised by Muller showed it to be effective against a wide variety of pests including the common housefly, the louse, Colorado beetle, and mosquito. The Geigy Company began to market the substance in 1940-41 as a 5% dust called Gesarol spray insecticide and a 3% dust called Neocid dust insecticide. The now universally used name, DDT, was first applied by the British Ministry of Supply in 1943. DDT was first added to U.S. Army supply lists in May 1943. Gahan and colleagues, in August 1943, made the first practical tests of DDT as a residual insecticide against adult vector mosquitoes. The first field test in which residual DDT was applied to the interior surfaces of all habitations and outbuildings of a community to test its effect on Anopheles vectors and malaria incidence was begun in Italy in the spring of 1944. During World War II, when supplies of pyrethrum were not adequate to meet the demand, DDT proved to be of enormous value in combating typhus and malaria. In malaria-endemic areas, spraying DDT twice a year on the inside walls of houses could prevent mosquitoes from transmitting malaria. Indoor residual insecticide spraying contributed to the eradication of malaria from many countries (including the United States) during the 1950s – 1970s. These compounds have also had great value in agricultural entomology and they have provided a great stimulus in the search for other insecticides.
Paul Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1948 “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods”.
Muller married Friedel Rüegsegger in 1927 and has two sons, Heinrich (b. 1929) and Niklaus (b. 1933), and one daughter, Margaretha (b. 1934), all married. Paul Müller died on October 12, 1965.
- From Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1964. http://nobelprize.org/medicine/laureates/1948/muller-lecture.pdf
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