George B. Dantzig

November 8, 1914 – May 13, 2005

Brief Biography

Dantzig

Celebrated as the “Father of Linear Programming”, George Dantzig was born to Latvian-American mathematician Tobias Dantzig and French linguist Anja Dantzig (née Ourisson). The younger Dantzig originally struggled with mathematics in school before discovering an interest in geometry. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and earned his masters on a graduate scholarship from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

After receiving his master's degree, George Dantzig worked for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics before serving during World War II as Chief of the Combat Analysis Branch of the Statistical Control Division of the United States Army Air Forces. Following the war, he received his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley under Jerzy Neyman and worked as a mathematician on Project SCOOP (Scientific Computation of Optimal Programs) in the Office of the Comptroller of the U. S. Air Force. At SCOOP, he worked closely with Murray Geisler who would later work with him at RAND.

He was challenged by colleagues at the Pentagon to work out a method the Air Force could employ to quicken and mechanize its planning process. It was while doing this work that he developed the linear programming model and the simplex algorithm to solve it.  In Dantzig’s model, “programming” refers to planning, and “linear” to the proportional and additive relationship between activities and the resources they consume and costs they incur.  The simplex algorithm is a technique to compute the optimal combination from among a potentially large number of possible activities. (Unbeknownst to Dantzig and most other operations researchers in the West, a similar method was derived eight years prior by Soviet mathematician Leonid V. Kantorovich)

Dantzig showed that thousands of decision problems across varying fields of business, government, and the military could be formulated as linear programming problems. Linear programming gave operations researchers a means to address preexisting and new problems in OR. It also presented a novel methodology of deriving and finding mathematical proofs.  

Dantzig went on to join the RAND Corporation before becoming the Professor of Operations Research and Chairman of the Operations Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley in 1960. Early on he developed the decomposition principle with Philip Wolfe . It is an algorithm that solves linear programming and relies on delayed column generation for improving the tractability to larger linear programs. In 1966 he joined Stanford University where he remained as Professor of Operations Research and Computer Science, Co-Director of the Systems Optimization Laboratory (SOL), and Director of the PILOT Energy-Economic Model Project. The objective or SOL was the development of “computational methods and associated computer routines for numerical analysis and optimization of large-scale systems.” Dantzig went on to work with many of his students, including Richard W. Cottle.

Dantzig was member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the National Medal of Science along with eight honorary degrees. Dantzig's seminal work laid the foundation for much of systems engineering and is widely used in network design and component design in computational, mechanical, and electrical engineering. His work inspired the formation of the Mathematical Programming Society (now the Mathematical Optimization Society) and a major section of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Generations of Dantzig's students have become leaders in all facets of society.

In 1975 Tjalling Koopmans and Leonid Kantorovich were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for their contribution in resource allocation and linear programming. Many professionals, Koopmans and Kantorovich included, were surprised at Dantzig’s exclusion as an honoree. Most individuals familiar with the situation considered him to be just as worthy of the prize. Since 1994, The George B. Dantzig Award has been given annually by INFORMS for the best dissertation in any area of operations research and the management sciences.  He died in 2005 at the age of ninety.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: George B. Dantzig
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Wikipedia Entry for George Dantzig

Cottle R., Johnson E., & Wets R. (2007) George B Dantzig. in The American Mathematical Society Notice, 54(3), 344-362. (link)

Gill P. E., Murray W., Saunders M. A., Tomlin J. A., & Wright M. H. (2008) George B. Dantzig and systems optimization. in Discrete Optimization, 5(2), 151-158. (link)

Gass, S. I. (2003) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame: George B. Dantzig. International Transactions in Operations Research, 10 (2): 191-193. (link)

Education

University of Maryland, A.B 1936

University of Michigan, MA 1939

University of California Berkeley, PhD 1946 (Mathematics Genealogy)

Affiliations

Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Methodologies
Application Areas

Oral Histories

Interview of George Dantzig at his home in Stanford, California, by Irv Lustig (then with ILOG), March 5, 2001.

NOTE: The video chapter transcripts are searchable, with search results displayed as marks on the time bar above the search box.  Click a mark to jump to the search word or phrase in the video and transcript, or click on any word in the transcript to jump to that point in the video.

Jump to Chapters

Chapter 1: Beginnings of Linear Programming
Chapter 2: Early Applications and The First Solved Linear Program
Chapter 3: Programming, Optimization and Objective Functions
Chapter 4: Early Collaborations and Symposium Zero
Chapter 5: The Field of Optimization
Chapter 6: The Diet Problem and Anne Dantzig
Chapter 7: My Parents
Chapter 8: Awards
Chapter 9: Planning Under Uncertainty

Albers D. J. & Reid C. (1986) An Interview with George B. Dantzig, The Father of Linear Programming. The College Mathematics Journal 17: 292-314. (link)

Memoirs and Autobiographies

Memoirs

Dantzig G. B. (1982) Reminiscences about the Origins of Linear Programming. Operations Research Letters, 1(2): 43-48. 

Dantzig G. B. (2002) Linear Programming. Operations Research 50(1): 42-47.

Obituaries

New York Times (2005) George B. Dantzig Dies at 90; Devised Math Solution to Broad Problems. (May 23). (link)

Washington Post (2005) Vanguard Mathematician George Dantzig Dies. (May 19) B06. (link)

Archives

Hartwig, D & J Johnson (2012) Guide to the George B. Dantzig Papers, Stanford University Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives. Stanford, CA (link)

Awards and Honors

National Medal of Science 1975

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1975

Harvey Prize 1985

Harold Pender Award 1995

Harold Lardner Prize 1997

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

International Federation of Operational Research Societies' Hall of Fame 2003

Professional Service

Mathematical Programming Society, Chairman 1977

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1966

Selected Publications

Dantzig G. B. & Wood M. (1949) Programming of inter-dependent activities I, General discussion. Econometrica, 17(3-4):193-9.

Dantzig G. B. (1951) A proof of the equivalence of the programming problem and the game problem. Koopman T. C., ed. in Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation, 330-355. John Wiley and Sons: New York.

Dantzig G. B. (1951) Application of the Simplex Method to a Transportation Problem. Koopman T. C., ed. in Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation, XIV: 222-259. John Wiley and Sons: New York.

Dantzig G. B., Fulkerson, D. R., & Johnson, S. M. (1954) The solution of a large-scale traveling salesman problem. Operations Research, 2(4): 393-410.

Dantzig G. B. (1955) Linear Programming under uncertainty. Management Science, 1(3-4): 197-206.

Dantzig G. B. (1957) Concepts, origins, and uses of Linear Programming.  Report P-980. The RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA.

Dantzig G. B. (1957) Discrete variable extremum problems. Operations Research,5(2):  266-277.

Dantzig G. B. (1963) Linear Programming and Extensions. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Cottle, R. W., & Dantzig, G. B. (1968). Complementary pivot theory of mathematical programming. Linear algebra and its applications, 1(1), 103-125.

Dantzig G. B. & Thapa M. N. (1997) Linear Programming, Volume 1: Introduction. Springer: New York.

Dantzig G. B & Thapa M. N. (2003) Linear Programming, Volume 2: Theory and Extensions. Springer: New York.