David E. Muller on 1930 Austin, Texas: Agol, Levit, and Offermann
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

One reason I remember this is I started school at that point. And I was too young to get into the public school, but they wanted me to start right then. So I started in a private school in September I guess of 1930. And that was when Agol arrived first. I remember him pretty well. He was very exuberant type. You know. Used to pick me up and put me on his shoulders and things like that. And then shortly later, Leavitt arrived and he was well quieter guy. He was…very different from Agol. One thing I remember about Agol was that he was fascinated by all the cars. Now in Texas at that time it wasn’t necessary to have a driver’s license to drive...if you can imagine. And so Agol went out and rented a car. You could rent a car. And he rented a car. And the first night he had rented the car he completely smashed it up. And…Oh that’s too bad, they said, you know, Sorry you had this accident. So soon after that he decided to rent a car again. And second time he also smashed it up! And at that point why they stopped renting cars to him. So this gives you…But he retained his interest in cars when he went back to Russia, why he wanted to buy a car in the worst way. And he offered to pay… I know this from the letters of course…he offered to pay for the car in rubles. Well that was a bad deal because as you know rubles were not as useful as a foreign currency, which was called volute at that time. Is it still called volute?

MP: Yeah they do. But now it’s different exchange.

Now you have an exchange rate. You couldn’t exchange it then, but you could buy all sorts of things with volute which you couldn’t get any other way. And you didn’t have to stand in great long lines and so on to do it.

MP: But do you remember your father with them? Agol and Levit?

Yeah, I do. And then there was Carlos Offermann who came later. I think that probably Levit came a month or two after Agol. And Carlos came I think in December of 1930 that time. I remember seeing each of those people in the living room talking, we talked with them, and I was sitting there listening. And it was amazing how different Carlos was, he was Argentine, and they were both Russian you see. And they were, the accents were different, the whole way of being was different. So it was rather a contrast, and…Carlos spoke English very well, with very little accent. So my mother asked him, “Where did you learn English so well?” And he said “Oh, I picked it up on the boat coming over.” But I’m sure that’s not true, because he was too good at it. Yeah. Well his native languages were German and Spanish, because of his background. But he must have learned English in addition to that, you see. So it was interesting and ah, very charming guy. So that was the beginning of the students who came over.

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)