C. West Churchman

August 29, 1913 – March 21, 2004

Brief Biography

Churchman Presidential Gallery Portrait

Charles West Churchman was born in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania into an old Philadelphia family. He was educated at a Quaker school and developed an ethical imperative to devote his life to helping others. Churchman enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned all three of his degrees. Having originally considered medicine or law, Churchman eventually chose philosophy as his major, believing it to be the discipline most dedicated to understanding the broad views of humanity. In his dissertation Churchman developed an extended form of propositional calculus. Though this work was criticized by leading logician Alonso Church, Churchman was unfazed.

Before and after graduation, Churchman taught philosophy classes at Penn. In one of his introductory courses he met future OR pioneer and longtime collaborator, Russell L. Ackoff, who became his first doctoral student. At the start of World War II, Churchman wanted to help the effort and employed his knowledge of statistics at the U.S. Ordinance Laboratory at Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia. He worked on statistical quality control problems and developed an inspection policy for small arms ammunition. This wartime assignment helped transition Churchman away from pure philosophy to operations research.

Churchman helped Ackoff complete his dissertation after the war. Following a failed attempted to establish an Institute of Experimental Method at Penn, the two parted ways before reuniting at the Case Institute of Technology in 1951. At Case, Churchman and Ackoff established the first academic program in operations research. They gave graduate students the opportunity to work as research assistants for industry-sponsored research projects, allowing for real world experience. In 1957, Churchman and Ackoff, with E. Leonard Arnoff, consolidated their lecture material into the first OR textbook, Introduction to Operations Research.

In this early period, Churchman’s OR contributions were primarily focused on applied statistical sampling and value measurement. His statistics work naturally stemmed from wartime research. Churchman continued studies on the measurement of human values, tying OR to his original philosophical interests. His and Ackoff’s development of an approximate measure of value played into the larger narrative of multi-criteria decision making.

Churchman had a long career as editor the journal Philosophy of Science, starting in 1948. A founding member of the Operations Research Society of American, Churchman was part of the contingent that wanted a less-military focused society. The Institute of Management Sciences was founded at a meeting held at Columbia University. Churchman was selected as founding editor of the organization’s journal, Management Science, holding the position for six years. He later served as TIMS’ ninth president.

Churchman left Case in 1958 to teach business administration at the University of California, Berkeley. In the mid-1960s, he worked on a NASA-sponsored project to study the management impact of new technologies. Churchman consulted for several other organization including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Over time, his interest in operations research shifted from quantitative methods to a broader view of the subject. Chuchman readdressed the philosophical roots of OR and called for radical changes in its application. Churchman wrote three philosophical works centered on proceeding from more specific problems of inquiry to addressing the whole system. The first, Challenge to Reason (1968) won the Academy of Management’s Best Book in Management Award. That same year anther of his works, The Systems Approach (1968), received the McKinsey Award.

Churchman retired from his faculty position at Berkeley but continued to teach peace and ethics courses until 1996. Churchman became an advocate for the application of OR to conflict studies. After battling Parkinson's disease, he passed away at ninety years old.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: C. West Churchman
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Wikipedia Entry for C. West Churchman

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: C. West Churchman. Accessed March 4, 2015. (link)

Dean, B. V. (1994) West Churchman and Operations Research: Case Institute of Technology, 1951–1957. Interfaces 24(4):5-15. (link

Mason R. O. (2004) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame, C. West Churchman. International Transactions in Operational Research, 11(5): 585-588. (link)


University of Pennsylvania, BA 1935

University of Pennsylvania, MA 1936

University of Pennsylvania, PhD 1938


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations
  • National Science Foundation
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
  • U.S. Ordinance Laboratory

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas


Academic Senate, University of California. In Memoriam: C. West Churchman. Accessed June 29, 2018. (link)

UC Berkeley News (2004) C. West Churchman Dies. March 31. (link)


C. West Churchman papers, BANC MSS C-B 1009, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. (link)

Awards and Honors

McKinsey Book Award 1968

Academy of Management's Best Book in Management Award 1968

Lyons Electronic Office Award for Lifetime Exceptional Achievement in Information Systems 1999

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame 2004

Professional Service

International Society for the Systems Sciences, President 1989

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1962

American Philosophy of Science Association, Secretary 1946-1954

Selected Publications

Churchman C. W. (1946) Philosophical aspects of statistical theory. Philosophical Review, 55(1): 81-87.

Churchman C. W. & Ackoff R. L. (1954) An approximate measure of value. Journal of the Operations Research Society of America, 2(2): 172-187.

Ackoff R., Arnoff E., & Churchman C.. W. (1957) Introduction to Operations Research. Wiley: New York.

Churchman C. W. & Schainblatt A. H. (1965) The researcher and the manager: A dialect of implementation. Management Science, 11(4): B-69.

Churchman C. W. (1968) Challenge to Reason. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Churchman C. W. (1968) The Systems Approach. Delacorte Press: New York.

Churchman C. W. (1970) Operations Research as a Profession. Management Science, 17(2): B-37.

Churchman C. W. (1971) The Design of Inquiring Systems: Basic Concepts of Systems and Organization. Basic Books: New York.

Churchman C. W. (1979) The Systems Approach and Its Enemies. Basic Books: New York.

Churchman C. W. (1982) Thought and Wisdom. Instersystems: Seaside, CA. 

Additional Resources

C. West Churchman Wikiquote