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G E O R G E B. D A N T Z I G
1914–2005
Elected in 1985
“For outstanding pioneering contributions to the
science and practice of operations research.”
BY SAUL I. GASS
SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
GEORGE B. DANTZIG, pioneer in operations research and
management science, mathematician, professor, educator,
consultant, author, and “father” of linear programming, died
on May 13, 2005, at the age of 90, in Stanford, California.
George’s formal education was in mathematics, which
reflected his early interest in the subject and the influence of
his father, Tobias Dantzig, a mathematics professor. George’s
seminal work can be summed up as the recognition and
definition of the broad class of practical problems that can
be studied as linear programs and the development of the
simplex algorithm for solving them. These developments
were essential to the emerging field of operations research,
which was developed by British scientists during World War
II. Linear programming was barely mentioned in early books
and reports on operations research, but, before long, it became
a mainstay of research methods and applications in the field.
An amazing story!
George was elected to the National Academy of Engineering
in 1985. He was a fellow of the Econometric Society, Institute
of Mathematical Statistics, Association for the Advancement
of Science, and Institute of Operations Research and the
Management Sciences. He was president of the Institute for
101

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102 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
Management Sciences and a founder of the Mathematical
Programming Society. He was the first recipient of the
Operations Research Society of America’s von Neumann
Theory Prize and the first inductee into the International
Federation of Operational Research Societies’ Operational
Research Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Silver Medal of
the British Operational Research Society and the Harvey Prize
in Science and Technology from Technion University. In 1975,
President Ford presented him with the National Medal of
Science.
George was born on November 8, 1914, in Portland, Oregon,
the first of two sons of Tobias and Anja (Ourisson) Dantzig.
Tobias, who was Russian, and Anja, who was Polish, met at
the Sorbonne where they both studied mathematics; they
moved to Oregon in 1910, where Tobias held a variety of jobs—
lumberjack, road builder, housepainter—before he obtained a
teaching position at Indiana University. He received his Ph.D.
in mathematics there in 1916. He then taught at Johns Hopkins
University and the University of Maryland, where he was chair
of the Mathematics Department.
In the book More Mathematical People (Simon & Schuster,
1990), George recounts his struggles with ninth-grade algebra
and how he became a top student in mathematics and science
when he was introduced to geometry, which “really turned [him]
on.” The thousands of geometry problems Tobias fed George—
to keep him from getting underfoot—helped George develop
his analytical power. He attended the University of Maryland,
College Park, where he received his A.B. in mathematics and
physics in 1936. That summer he married Anne Shmuner
and moved to Ann Arbor, where George received his M.A. in
mathematics in 1938 from the University of Michigan.
Although he had taken only one graduate course in statistics,
he qualified for the Civil Service as a junior statistician, and in
1937, he accepted a job at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in
Washington, D.C. At first, he thought statistics was “just a bag of
tricks,” but, after learning many practical applications on the
job and becoming familiar with the work of Jerzy Neyman, he
changed his mind.

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103
GEORGE B. DANTZIG
George wrote to Neyman, who had just moved to the
University of California, Berkeley, about taking a Ph.D.
under his direction. Neyman managed to get him a teaching
assistantship, and George and Anne moved west in 1939. In those
years, statistics was included in the Mathematics Department,
and, although George had taken only two courses in statistics,
both from Neyman, his dissertation was in statistics. That was
when the George Dantzig “urban legend” originated.
If you search the Web for “urban legend George Dantzig,”
you will probably be directed to the URL for “Snopes.com, The
Unsolvable Math Problem.” That site recounts how George,
coming in late for class, mistakenly thought two problems
Neyman had written on the board were homework problems.
After a few days of struggling, he turned in his answers. About
six weeks later, at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, he and Anne
were awakened by someone banging on their front door. It
was Neyman, who said: “I have just written an introduction to
one of your papers. Read it so I can send it out right away for
publication.” George’s answers to the homework problems were
proofs of two unproven theorems in statistics.
The Snopes website tells in detail how George’s experiences
ended up as a sermon for a Lutheran minister and the basis
for the film Good Will Hunting. The solution to the second
homework problem became part of a joint paper with Abraham
Wald, who found the solution independently in 1950, unaware
that George had already solved it until a journal referee called
it to his attention. Neyman had George submit his answers to
the “homework” problems as his Ph.D. dissertation.
In June 1941, prior to defending his dissertation, George
accepted a job in Washington with the Army Air Force Combat
Analysis Branch of Statistical Control. Thus he did not receive
his Ph.D. in mathematics from Berkeley until 1946, at which time
he was offered a teaching position there. He decided to stay at
the Pentagon, however, and become the mathematical advisor
to the comptroller of the newly established Department of the
Air Force. The deciding factor in his decision was that the salary
he was offered at Berkeley was “too little.”

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104 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
Although he considered the Pentagon a holding place until
he found a decent-paying academic position, that job choice
started him down a life-changing research path that led to the
development of linear programming. Thus, his decision had
momentous results: It set operations research on a new course
of research and applications, and, more important, it made
enterprises and governments everywhere more effective and
efficient.
George’s Pentagon colleagues challenged him to figure
out how the Air Force could mechanize its planning process
to speed up computation of the deployment of forces and
equipment, training, and logistical support. Keep in mind that
all he had then were desk calculators and IBM accounting
equipment. Based on his study of Air Force requirements,
he adapted and generalized the structure behind Wassily
Leontief’s interindustry model. Thus he was able to state
mathematically, for the first time, a wide class of practical and
important problems that fell into the newly defined structure
of linear programming. This was in July 1947. By the end of
that summer, he had developed the simplex method of solving
such problems.
In June 1947, the Air Force had established a major task
force to work on high-speed computation of its planning
process, later named Project SCOOP (scientific computation
of optimal programs), with George as chief mathematician. He
remained with Project SCOOP until June 1952 when he joined
the RAND Corporation as a research mathematician. George’s
accomplishments in his research for the Air Force included
the first statement of the linear-programming problem
and the recognition of its applicability to a wide range of
decision problems; the invention of the simplex method (IEEE
named the simplex algorithm one of the top 10 algorithms
of the twentieth century); the testing and proof of the linear-
programming model and the simplex method; the statement
and proof of linear-programming primal-dual problems and
their relationship via the simplex algorithm; the development
of the simplex transportation algorithm; and the establishment
of the equivalence between linear-programming and zero-sum,
two-person games.

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105
GEORGE B. DANTZIG
In 1960, George began an illustrious academic career
as professor of engineering science and chairman of the
Operations Research Center, University of California, Berkeley.
He moved to Stanford University in 1966 as professor of
operations research and computer science and was appointed
to the C.A. Criley Endowed Chair in Transportation in 1973. He
retired in 1985 as professor emeritus, but he continued to teach
and maintain an active research agenda until the fall of 1997.
During his academic career, he authored or coauthored seven
books and more than 150 papers.
George’s legacy goes far beyond his research and teaching,
however. It includes his friendship, mentoring, and unselfishness
with time and ideas. He guided more than 50 Ph.D. students
through Berkeley and Stanford.
George was a frequent visitor to the International Institute
of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), “a non-governmental
research organization, headquartered in Laxenburg,
Austria, that conducts interdisciplinary scientific studies on
environmental, economic, technological, and social issues in the
context of human dimensions of global change.” In 1973–1974,
he spent a sabbatical year at IIASA as head of the Methodology
Group.
For more than 50 years, George’s continuing innovations
were of the highest order, and the scientific and economic
impacts that have resulted from his work are immeasurable.
How does one measure the fact that all major (and most minor)
industries directly or indirectly use linear programming to aid
them in the allocation of their resources and decision making;
that all computer systems (mainframes and PCs) “learn”
how to solve linear-programming problems as soon as they
are “born”; that the simplex method is imbedded into all PC
spreadsheet systems; that national economic planning for the
third world and developing countries is being guided by linear-
programming techniques; that strategic and tactical military
planning, management of military personnel, and a wide
variety of logistical (peacetime and combat) problems are solved
using linear programming; that mathematical and computer
science research such as combinatorics, numerical analysis, and

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106 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES
the solution of large-scale problems have been aided by linear
programming; and that such diverse applications as cancer
screening, airlines scheduling, agricultural development,
transportation and delivery systems, scheduling of personnel,
and petroleum refinery operations have been influenced by
the work of George Dantzig?
The professional and academic fields of operations
research, management science, industrial engineering, as well
as the mathematical and computer sciences, rest heavily upon
his lifetime of work.
George was survived by his wife Anne (née Shmuner),
who died August 10, 2006. They are survived by son David
Dantzig (wife: Nancy) of Cleveland, Ohio; daughter Jessica
Klass (husband: Michael) of El Cerrito, California; son Paul
Dantzig (wife: Susan Abrams) of Scarsdale, New York; three
grandchildren: Audra Zelvy (husband: Michael), Aron
Dantzig, and Jeremy Dantzig; two great-grandchildren, Ivy
and Brian Zelvy; and Anne’s brother Daniel Shaw of Baltimore,
Maryland.

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