In 1939, a chemist in Switzerland developed a new compound that would profoundly change the lives of farmers and ordinary folks around the globe. Paul Muller was working for the J. R. Geigy firm when he demonstrated that DDT killed the Colorado potato beetle, a pest that was ravaging the potato crops across America and Europe.
DDT quickly became the new “wonder insecticide” and was credited with saving thousands of human lives in World War II by killing typhus-carrying lice and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. It was the first “organic” chemical insecticide, meaning that it is a carbon-based molecule.
In the years to come, this product of the 30s would go from a savior to a scourge. DDT was eventually banned, but it opened up a long line of new organic chemical insecticides that would change agriculture.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.