Dr. Carl Djerassi, the so-called 'father of the pill,' died at his home in San Francisco on Friday from "complications due to cancer," according to a statement from his family on his website. He was 91.
Carl Djerassi, along with two of his colleagues, had his name on the patent for a method of synthesizing a progestin called norethindrone they discovered in 1951, which led the way to the development of the commercial birth control pill. Although he technically did not invent or create the combined oral contraceptive pill, he is often known as the 'father of the pill' and often lectured in promotion of the oral contraceptive, according to his obituary in the New York Times.
"Yes, I am proud to be called the father of the pill," he told The Guardian in 2000. The breakthrough also brought Djerassi plenty of wealth, as he became president of the pharmaceutical company where he worked, Syntex, in 1959. He also owned the patent for the first antihistamine.
Djerassi was born in Vienna on October 29, 1923, and he and his mother fled Nazi-controlled Austria in 1939 for the United States. With help from Eleanor Roosevelt, he earned a college scholarship and eventually earned his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1945 and became a US citizen.
In 1959, while becoming the president of Syntex in Mexico City and Palo Alto, he also joined the faculty of Stanford and taught until 2002. With his wealth he bought 1,200 acres in Woodside, near Palo Alto, and started a cattle ranch and collected art, primarily that of the painter Paul Klee. In 1979, he turned his ranch into an artists' colony.
Aside from being accomplished in the science world, Djerassi was also a prolific novelist and playwright. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1973 and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1991.
He is survived by his son, Dale, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander Djerassi.