David E. Muller on The Letters Saved by his Mother
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

Well I’d like to say that she’s responsible for what I’m doing now in many respects. Because what she did was to save all the letters that she got my father, that she wrote, that Carlos [Offermann] wrote, and she wrote to him, and also that I wrote. And all these were saved by her and they were almost lost when we had a flood in California, in Monrovia California. But for the most part they were saved until…. And I of course had a lot of memories of my childhood, but after reading these letters I somehow changed my point of view a little bit because I learned a lot that way. So what I was going to talk about was a combination of these two things. Now the letters have been copied by Jim Schwartz, he’s interested in doing a book. But I was the one who suggested that originally, I said You know there’s something that’s been going on here, which if it were fiction it would be no good because it would be too fantastic. But it’s real! And therefore I think it’s important to get it out. I was going to write it myself, but I don’t believe that I would …many people think they can write, but I’m not going to delude myself. I was thinking I might write up the thing in a preliminary fashion anyhow, and then Jim can read it and he can decide what to take. Because I can’t tell him everything I remember. That’s too much. And if I just write it down I thought maybe that would be a good way to do it without trying to appeal to a broad audience or something like that. You see? These letters were stored in Monrovia. My mother died there. She had tuberculosis and she died in ’54, I guess it was. And she had collected all these things hoping that maybe it would eventually be written up, what happened. If it ever is written up, its going to be and I hope Jim can do it going to be such a remarkable story that people will say this must be true because it wouldn’t pass as fiction.

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)

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