George E. Kimball

July 12, 1906 – December 6, 1967

Brief Biography

Kimball Presidential Gallery Photo

George Elbert Kimball was a celebrated scientist who achieved outstanding success and recognition in the fields of quantum chemistry and operations research. Kimball was born in Chicago and grew up in New Britain, Connecticut. After a year at Exeter Academy, he went on to Princeton University at the suggestion of his father, who believed there to be far too many Yale graduates in the State. Kimball arrived in Princeton at a high point of quantum research, studying under internationally renowned professors. He was offered one of the university’s premiere graduate fellowships and stayed on to receive his master’s degree and PhD.

After his graduate study, Kimball remained at Princeton before moving on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a National Research Fellow. Though he was technically associated with the university’s Chemistry Department, Kimball spent a great deal working alongside MIT physicists George Shortley, William Shockley, and fellow Princeton graduate Philip M. Morse. Kimball continued his work on quantum mechanics well into the 1930s and 1940s, accepting at position at Columbia University where he did so.

When Morse was asked by the United States Navy during World War II to organize an anti-submarine group, Kimball was one of the first people he brought on. Within the year, Kimball became Deputy Director of the Operations Research Group (ORG) and soon found himself exploring a burgeoning science. He worked on numerous classified projects, including a top-secret report on the naval implications of the atomic bomb. In 1946 he and Morse wrote the classified Methods of Operations Research for the Navy’s Operations Evaluation Group (headed by former ORG colleague Jacinto Steinhardt). An unclassified edition of the book was later published and served as the first ever introduction of basic OR concepts to industry.

Kimball held a very clear view of the nature of operations research. InMethods, he defined OR as “a scientific method or providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control”. As the discipline grew, Kimball saw an overestimation of the “goal of OR”.  Kimball was concerned that OR was being equated with its mathematical methods. The use of these methods (such as optimization and simulation) were not sufficient to determine the best way to control an operation, since real operations were much more complex than could be represented in simple mathematical models, the solutions to which might serve only as a starting point.   

Unlike many of his wartime associates, Kimball returned to his original professional discipline and resumed the life of active quantum researcher and theorist. Between 1944 and 1951, he published ten articles on a variety of chemical topics. During this time he did, however, continue an association with Steinhardt and the OEG. Starting in 1950, Kimball began a minimal return to OR practice with the consultant firm, Arthur D. Little, Inc (ADL). The following year, he worked heavily on the company’s Johnson & Johnson project with longtime collaborator and friend, John F. Magee. By 1956, Kimball left Columbia altogether to work full time at ADL. Seven years later, he became scientific director of the ADL Trident Project, an antisubmarine systems analysis project for the U.S. Navy.

Kimball cared about the growth of OR awareness in the general public. He was a founding member of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) and served as the organization’s thirteenth president. After losing a serious battle against cardiac illness, Kimball passed away at fifty-nine years old. On the initiative of ADL, ORSA established the George E. Kimball Medal in his honor. The prize has since become one of the most important in operations research as it awarded each year to an individual for his or her distinguished service to the profession.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: George E. Kimball
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Wikipedia Entry for George E. Kimball

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: George E. Kimball. Accessed March 22, 2015. (link

INFORMS Prizes & Awards. George E. Kimball Medal: Who was George E. Kimball?. Accessed March 22, 2015. (link)

Morse P. M. (1973) George Elbert Kimball: A Biographical Memoir. National Academy of Sciences: Washington, D.C. (link)  

Education

Princeton University, BA 1928

Princeton University, MS 1929

Princeton University, PhD 1932

Affiliations

Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Methodologies
Application Areas

Obituaries

Machol R. E. (1967) George E. Kimball, July 12, 1906-December 5, 1967. Operations Research, 15(6): 1188. (link)

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), 1967 

Selected Publications

Kimball G. E. & Morse P. M. (1951) Methods of Operations Research. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Kimball G. E. (1954) Decision theory: operations research in management. Advanced Management, 19(12):5.

Kimball G. E. (1956) Nature of Operations Research. A. D. Little Report. Arthur D. Little, Inc: Cambridge, MA. 

Kimball G. E. (1957) Notes on Model Testing A. D. Little Report. Arthur D. Little, Inc: Cambridge, MA. 

Kimball G. E. (1957) Some industrial applications of military operations research. Operations Research, 5(2): 201-204. 

Kimball G. E. (1959) Notes on Dynamic Programming. A. D. Little Report. Arthur D. Little, Inc: Cambridge, MA.