Merrill M. Flood

November 28, 1908 – March 24, 1991

Brief Biography

Flood Presidential Portrait

A pioneer in the development of operations research and the management sciences, Merrill Meeks Flood was born in Seward, Nebraska and attended the nearby University of Nebraska. Upon the completion of his master’s thesis in 1930, Flood sought to continue graduate study. He contacted multiple universities but was offered meager financial support from his top choices. Flood eventually settled on Princeton University and switched his academic focus from number theory to algebra.

As a graduate student at Princeton, Flood befriended many of mathematics’ brightest minds and faculty members John von Neumann, Alonzo Church, and Albert W. Tucker. Flood’s relationship with his supervisor, Joseph Wedderburn, was a curious one given that the Wedderbun never read Flood’s dissertation nor had any real intellectual interaction with his student. In 1937, Tucker first introduced Flood to the Traveling Salesman Problem after the latter received his PhD.

Post-graduation, Flood was hired by Princeton as a mathematics instructor. In his earliest lectures, he started to work on the theory of games. One of the courses Flood had to teach was a course on statics, a branch of engineering mechanics. It was a topic he knew little about but he used the opportunity to better familiarize himself with applied mathematics. Flood's chance to test this knowledge came when he worked on a Works Progress Administration project in Trenton. The resulting study of prisoner statistics committed Flood on the path of applied mathematics. This work propelled Flood to a Princeton research project devoted to carrying out local government surveys designed to assess and remedy the high unemployment and other financial woes of the time.  

At the start of World War II, Flood moved to the United States War Department where he served as Chief Civilian Scientist on the General Staff and sponsored research on OR, game theory, and linear programming for logistics.   He also worked for the Office of Naval Research and had his own consulting firm before moving to the RAND Corporation. It was at RAND that Flood conducted his most meaningful research. The first major advancement to come from this period was the creation of the so-called “Prisoner’s Dilemma” of game theory. Flood developed the basis of this strategic game with Melvin Dresher. While his 1953 paper on a particular form of linear programming problem due to Hitchcock and known as the transportation problem is his most cited work from the RAND years, he made strides in numerous areas. It was during this time when Flood more thoroughly pursued work on the TSP and popularized his results in 1956. With John Tukey, Flood is also credited with naming the discipline of linear programming.

Flood was significantly involved in the professional evolution of operations research and management science. He was a major player in the establishment of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS). In addition to naming the organization with Mel Salveson, he organized its first annual meeting with David B. Hertz. Flood served as TIMS' second president and was later elected president of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA). He was awarded the George E. Kimball medal in 1983 for his work with both societies and for his revolutionary contributions to the discipline.

After his time at RAND, Flood returned to academic sector. He moved to Columbia University and later the University of Michigan, where he spent the plurality of his academic career as a faculty member in industrial engineering, mathematical biology, and education. For three years, Flood headed Willow Run Laboratories at Michigan where he pursued research in Aerial combat surveillance systems as Director of Project MICHIGAN.  After retiring from teaching in 1976, Flood continued his research at Stanford University and the University of California San Diego. He passed away in La Jolla, CA on March 24, 1991.

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Merrill M. Flood

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: Merrill M. Flood. Accessed February 2, 2015. (link)

University of Michigan. Faculty History Project: Merrill M. Flood. Accessed July 12, 2018. (link)

Bentley Historical Library. Merrill M. Flood Papers: Biography. Accessed February 2, 2015. (link)


University of Nebraska, MA 1930

Princeton University, PhD 1935 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Merrill Flood (1984) Interview by Albert Tucker, May 14. The Princeton Mathematics Community in the 1930s. The Trustees of Princeton, University. (transcript)

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Flood, M ((1983) Letter to Eugene Lawler


Merrill M. Flood Papers 1930-1991. Bentley Historical Library. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. (link)

Awards and Honors

George E. Kimball Medal 1983

Professional Service

The Institute of Industrial Engineers, Vice President, 1962-1965

The Operations Research Society of America, President 1961-62

The Institute of Management Sciences, President 1955

Selected Publications

Flood M. M. (1948) A Game Theoretic Study of the Tactics of Area Defense. RAND Corporations: Santa Monica, CA.

Flood M. M. (1952) Aerial Bombing Tactics: General Considerations (A World War II Study). RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA.  

Flood M. M. (1953) On the Hitchcock distribution problem. Pacific Journal Math, 3(2): 369-386.

Flood M. M. (1956) The traveling-salesman problem. Journal of the Operations Research Society of America, 4(1): 61-75.

Flood M. M. (1958) Operations research and logistics. Naval Research Logistics Quarterly, 5(4): 323-335.

Flood M. M. (1960) Solving linear programming problems in integers. Combinatorial Analysis: Proceedings of the Tenth Symposium in Applied Mathematics, 257-306.

Flood M. M. (1961) A transportation algorithm and code. Naval Research Logistics Quarterly, 8(3): 257-276.

Flood M. M. (1962) Stochastic learning theory applied to choice experiments with rats, dogs, and men. Behavioral Science, 7(3): 289-314.

Flood M. M. (1990) Exact and heuristic algorithms for the weighted feedback arc set problem: A special case of the skew‐symmetric quadratic assignment problem. Networks, 20(1): 1-23.

Additional Resources

RAND Corporation. Published Research: Merrill M. Flood. Accessed February 2, 2015. (link)