The Creation of Dianabol and the Myth of Dr. John Ziegler

One of the most enduring myths in the history of anabolic steroids is the belief that Dr. John Ziegler created Dianabol. The truth is that Ziegler had nothing to do with the invention of Dianabol. The real inventors were organic chemists working in a laboratory half way around the world.

Dianabol (methandrostenolone or metandienone) (l7beta-hydroxy-17alpha-methylandrosta-1,4-dien-3-one) was first synthesized by organic chemists working for CIBA Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland. The European researchers who created Dianabol probably never heard of John Ziegler, either before or after its development, and most certainly did not collaborate with John Ziegler.

So who really created Dianabol?

The following illustrious and prolific steroid hormone chemists at CIBA Pharmaceuticals (Switzerland) all share credit for its invention: Albert Wettstein, Alfred Hunger, Charles Meystre, Ludwig Ehmann, Ernst Vischer, Hans Peter Frey and Walter Voser. They were all part of the team that first outlined the synthesis of methandrostenolone in the Swiss-founded scientific journal Helvetica Chimica Acta.

Vischer E, Meystre C, Wettstein A. Herstellung weiterer 1-Dehydrosteroide auf mikrobiologischem Wege. Helv Chim Acta 1955;38:1502-6.
Meystre C, Frey H, Voser W, Wettstein A. Gewinnung von 1,4-Bisdehydro-3-oxo-steroiden. HeIv Chim Acta 1956;39:734-42.
The inventors of record in the United States patent for methandrostenolone (US 2900398) are listed as Wettstein, Hunger, Meystre, and Ludwig Ehmann of CIBA. The patent application only references the aforementioned 1956 Helvetica Chimica Acta study.

The CIBA researchers were no lightweights. Wettstein collaborated with the Leopold Ružička’s research team that won the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their remarkable work on the synthesis of testosterone. The discovery of Dianabol was just another feather in his cap.

Why then has Dr. John Ziegler been erroneously credited with inventing Dianabol?

The romanticized account of how a small-town country doctor created a synthetic anabolic steroid to level the playing field between American Olympic lifters and their testosterone-using Russian counterparts certainly made for a feel-good story of die-hard nationalism during the height of the Cold War. The misinformation became part of steroid mythology with each re-telling of the story in the bodybuilding press and even mainstream journalism.

The fact that John Ziegler did not really invent Dianabol does not diminish his significance in the history of steroid use in the United States. Ziegler helped facilitate the adoption of steroids in general, and Dianabol in particular, by American athletes.

Ziegler was the first person to introduce Dianabol to competitive athletes shortly after its commercial introduction by CIBA in 1958. He had access to the CIBA laboratory in Summit (New Jersey) during the 1950s and was already supplying weightlifters with testosterone propionate for “research purposes”. However, there was no active steroid research at the CIBA facility in New Jersey; all steroid hormone synthesis was reserved for the corporate headquarters in Switzerland.

When Dianabol became available, CIBA (New Jersey) reportedly asked Ziegler to administer the newly developed Dianabol to Olympic weightlifters training at York Barbell in late 1959. He subsequently systematically prescribed 10 milligrams of Dianabol per day to weightlifters John Grimek, Bill March, Tony Garcy and Louis Riecke. They were the very first athletes to use Dianabol.

Although the steroids testosterone propionate, methyltestosterone and Nilevar were already being used by some West Coast bodybuilders, it wasn’t until CIBA introduced Dianabol in 1958, and Ziegler started prescribing it, that steroid use quickly went mainstream in bodybuilding and weightlifting before gradually spreading to all competitive sports.

Dianabol emerged as the steroid of choice among American bodybuilders and athletes. It currently remains one of the most popular steroids used by contemporary bodybuilders. For the millions of athletes that have used Dianabol, John Ziegler will continue to hold a special place in their hearts.