Patent for DDT Yields Success

December 13, 2013

Paul Müller, a Swiss chemist working for Geigy Corporation, was employed to find a new effective insecticide. In 1939, Muller discovered that a known compound, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), was highly effective in the control of vector diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

Wenderoth obtained the U.S. patent for Müller and the Geigy Corporation on DDT.

In 1948, Müller received the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine for his discovery of insecticidal qualities and use of DDT. Between the 1950s and 1970s, DDT helped eradicate malaria entirely from many countries, the U.S. included. For over two decades, DDT-based products were the most widely used insecticides in the world, playing a crucial role in increasing worldwide food production and saving the lives of people who would otherwise have died of insect-born diseases. Although DDT was later discovered to create significant environmental problems, DDT's remarkable effectiveness against malaria, which had plagued the human race since prehistory, perhaps causing the deaths of half the people who have ever lived, made it one of the greatest medical discoveries in history. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences praised the unprecedented effectiveness of DDT in the following words: "To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. It is estimated that, in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that would otherwise have been inevitable."