Philip Weiss had Austrian roots, as his grandparents emigrated to the USA. He himself grew up in New York and studied chemistry there. After earning his doctorate at New York University, he also took up a teaching position there. He then worked for the U.S. Air Force and the prestigious Cooper Union for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences.
Weiss then moved into industry, working as a researcher at the major chemical manufacturer American Cyanamid and at Wallaca and Tiernan, a company specializing in water treatment and disinfection.
At the Colgate-Palmolive research laboratories, he developed a series of novel and highly effective detergents and wetting agents based on the principle of graft and block polymerization. The detergents he developed played a major role in the company’s success. In 1957, he moved to General Motors, where he became director of research at GM Laboratories.