David E. Muller on Relationship with his Father While Growing Up
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

Well, first of all then we went to Austin and she got a job with the WPA and managed to support me and find a place to live and so on. My father found out when he got back from his trip, of course. He then arranged I guess by the end of the year to get a Russian divorce, but, of course that didn’t make her subject to any Russian requirements. Now when did he come back? Probably in a year or two he came back to the United States to visit and so we saw him then.

He stayed in Russia for a long time after that, but would make occasional visits.

MP: But you still were in Austin?

Yes, I was still in Austin. He came back probably in ’35 or ’36. I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. I can find out from the letters when it was that he came back. There was a court proceeding about custody and things like this. The court ended up with a decree that I wasn’t allowed to leave Texas. So he had hoped, I think, to take me somewhere to the East Coast and spend the summer or something like that, but it didn’t work out that way because of the way the court decided that I should stay in Texas which wasn’t what I wanted to do either, you see.

And he used to come back and, as I say he went to Texas and there was this court proceedings and they had __and so on. That was very hard on me too. I ended up going to this place of Junction, Texas which caused me so much difficulty due to the – you know, it’s a funny thing, I’ll tell you something – it looked as if I wasn’t going to have to do anything, but the judge at the proceedings said he wanted to talk to me. Then this judge then invited me to lunch to talk to me. Apparently he decided that I didn’t know enough about baseball, sports and other things like that and therefore I needed a father, you see.

I didn’t know that was what he was testing me on. Because you know my father never had the slightest interest in sports whatsoever. He would never have talked about it. To me anyhow. So the judge had just decided…

Yeah, well, he was very difficult. He had his feeling. I can’t in a short time really do it. But it’s true. He was very difficult. That was the reason for the divorce. He couldn’t get along with my mother or with me. We both felt that he was – and I believe that was his personality and I think it probably would have happened with almost anybody. You see, I didn’t like him. I really didn’t because of the way he treated me and my mother. As a child I had decided. I tried to avoid getting into a situation where I had to stay alone with him and this happened first when I went to his place in Texas, Junction, I came back with all sorts of nervous tics and things after spending a month with him. Even when I was much older at 13 at Woods Hole – I went to Woods Hole for the summer with him – even then I had quite a bit of difficulty. But as I say in 1941 it was okay. By that time I could shut it off. I didn’t feel as vulnerable because I was older.

He just had that kind of a temperament that allowed him to get exceedingly angry at times with things that appeared to have no basis and so on. I don’t know. It was part of his nature.

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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