David E. Muller on Early Memories About Family Life
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

I do remember we used to go in the summertime to New York City. And that’s because the weather was better there than Austin in the summertime. And he of course originated in New York City, he came from there. And he felt that he’d like to get away. And so my mother and I and my father went there. I remember the summer I was two and we were in the apartment next to Central Park. I can remember that, and I looked across the street and there were people selling things over there. Somebody said to me, well what do you want? Would you like a windmill or a cane? And I said, Oh there’s a man with a cane, so I bought this cane. And that was when I was two.

Well you see it has to do with the way I was brought up. And my parents were very realistic about the idea of bringing up a kid. They would never, never consider talking in a way that would be…that would correspond to baby talk, or anything like that. Always talked using complicated words and things you know, that I had to understand, but that’s the way you understand things. So they treated me in a way that expected me to learn new things and to understand them and complicated ideas, and so forth. So I was more or less brought up in that way. And they used to spend time with me explaining science, complicated concepts like, like the atom, you know, things like that. They would explain this to me. And that was when I was only about six or so, and I was expected to learn how to read and write before school. They thought I should be able to do that, you see. And ah… in fact I started how to learn how to read when I, before I went to this house. So it must have been when I was about four. They said, well, they said to me, “Let us know when you’re ready to learn how to read.” And I said “No I’m not ready to learn how to read.” But then I became curious, you see. So sometime later, maybe a month or a few weeks later, I said “You know, I think I’m ready to learn how to read.” And so they had this blackboard, and I remember the first word they wrote on the blackboard. You know what it was? Fly. F-l-y. And By this time of course I already knew the alphabet so that wasn’t the new thing. But that’s the way…And from then on, okay once I said, All right, from then on I got lessons in reading. I couldn’t turn back. You see what I mean.

MP: Both of them taught you?

Yeah. Yeah they were in this respect they were in agreement of it. I should, I should ah…I should learn about life, I should learn about science, I should learn about how things worked. And ….actually everything is very interesting, you know, and you get hooked on that. It becomes interesting to you. Yeah, it’s a new way of raising children in which you treat them, well… to what they can understand. Not exactly like an adult, but nevertheless treat them in a way that expects them to understand. So I think that was something. That was a gift that they gave me.

Some. Yeah, no I got a lot from him. And also he had an enthusiasm, you see, which was contagious. And so that was interesting too.

Um…Yeah they, well of course as I said they often had people come and join them at their house. Usually after I went to bed. And they would play music on the record player. It was one of these that you wind up. You know but, nevertheless they had various things that they used to play. I think that my mother liked classical music more than my father. But anyhow that was the kind of thing that they would have. And also dancing and so forth. And Carlos had brought along some records too. Like tangos, you know, and things like that. So there was certainly that. Now they used to sometimes go to movies I guess. At that time they were usually silent movies not the kind where you had voices. And I wasn’t usually allowed to go to these things, but I may have gone to one or two.

David E. Muller was born in 1924 in Austin, Texas. He is the son of Hermann J. Muller, who received a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery of x-ray induced mutations in Drosophila melanogaster, and Jesse Jacobs Muller Offermann, a mathematician and first wife of H.J. Muller.

In the 1930’s, H.J. Muller left his laboratory at the University of Texas to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He then moved to Russia where he joined the Institute of Genetics and later the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. During this time, David and his mother traveled to Germany and Russia to visit his father. After H.J. Muller’s return to the United States in 1940, David reunited with his father at the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium for Quantitative Biology. Afterward, David returned to school at Caltech and H.J. Muller to his appointments at Amherst College (1940-1945) and Indiana University (1945-1967).

Following in his mother’s footsteps, David became a mathematician and began working with computers at the University of Illinois in 1952. There he designed the Muller C-element, which is a commonly used component in computers. He taught at the University of Illinois until 1992 at which time he retired.

In April 2005, David donated his collection of photographs and personal letters written primarily by his parents and Carlos Offermann (one of H.J. Muller’s top graduate students and David’s step-father) to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives. The letters were written between 1900 and 1945, although the bulk of the letters date from the early 1920’s when H.J. Muller took his first trip to Europe and the 1930’s when H.J. Muller was working in Germany, Russia, and the UK. These letters also cover the period of time when H.J. Muller made his Nobel-winning discoveries.

(Anthony Dellureficio, June, 2008)

Left         Right