Donald Knuth

January 10, 1938

Brief Biography

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Donald Knuth is one of the most influential computer scientists of the 20th century and is often known as the father of the analysis of algorithms. He completed his undergraduate studies at Case Institute of Technology. Knuth was exceptionally lucky given that Case was one of the few universities in the United States at the time that allowed for students to work hands on with their computer, an IBM 650. He received his BS in 1960 and went on to earn his PhD in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1963. After graduating, Knuth worked at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Princeton prior to starting work at Stanford University in 1968. He continued to have a presence with IDA throughout the Cold War.

Over the course of his career Knuth has been a major figure in advancing computer software and programming languages. In addition to his work in theoretical computer science he has designed numerous computing interfaces and early typefaces. Though his life’s work has been primarily in computer science and software development, Knuth’s influence on Operation Research stems from some of his earliest endeavors.

While a graduate student at Cal Tech, Knuth was a consultant to the Burroughs Corporation. At the time he was there, Burroughs was in the midst of developing their B 5000 large system. As a consultant, Knuth was able to communicate closely with the different engineering teams and product design departments.  He learned that the machine was experiencing timing issues with its software and that the development staff believed that simulation could help solve that. 

Building on his familiarity with random number generation and his familiarity with the work of Stanislaw Ulam and John von Neumann, Knuth and his partner, John McNeely, developed their Simulation Oriented Language (SOL), an early approach to discrete event simulation, as an extension of Algorithmic Language (ALGOL). Since SOL was designed from the bottom-up, they were able to make it as efficient as possible.

His book, The Art of Computer Programming(the first volume, “Fundamental Algorithms”, was published in 1968) has been a major influence in the realm of computer science. Beyond its content, the book itself serves as a tool for organizing the entire discipline. Volumes 2 and 3 are especially interesting to the operations research community as they explore topics of computer simulation and random number generators. One major point in the second volume that has had a certain influence in the OR community is the somewhat paradoxical necessity for an ordered structure in systems of random numbers. Knuth’s work with Burroughs and SOL led him to the conclusion that, “random numbers should not be generated with a method chosen at random.” As yet unpublished sections of Volume 4, notably chapter 7, cover central methods in operations research such as the assignment problem, network flows, dynamic programming and branch and bound.

Though he is now retired from Stanford University, Knuth remains very active, continuing to work on the next volume of his book and keeping a close eye on the evolution of computer science.  

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Donald Knuth

Alan M. Turing Award. Award Winners: Donald ("Don") Ervin Knuth. Accessed December 19, 2014. (link)

Computer History Museum. Donald Knuth, 1998 Fellow. Accessed July 2, 2018. (link

The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive. Donald E. Knuth Biography. Accessed December 19, 2014. (link

Roberts, S (2018) The Yoda of Silicon Valley.  New York Times, December 18, 2018. Accessed December 20, 2019 (link)


Case Institute of Technology, B.S 1960

California Institute of Technology, PhD 1963 (Mathematical Genealogy


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Donald Knuth (2013) Interview by Richard E. Nance. February 6. Stanford, California. NCSU Libraries Computer Simulation Archive: Raleigh, NC. (video)

Donald Knuth (2001) Interview by Philip L. Frana. November 8. Stanford, California. The Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota. (link)

Donald Knuth (2008) Interview by Andrew Binstock. April 5. InformIT, Pearson Education. (transcript)

Donald Knuth (2007) Interview by Gianluca Pignalberi. A prime number of questions for the Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming. Free Software Magazine. (transcript)

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Curriculum Vitae


Web of Stories Video Autobiography (97 Parts) 


Donald E. Knuth Papers, Special Collections & University Archives, Stanford University Libraries. (link)

Awards and Honors

A.M Turing Award 1974

National Medal of Science 1979

Harvey Prize 1995

John von Neumann Medal 1995

Faraday Medal 2011

Selected Publications

Knuth D. E. (1964). SOL - A Symbolic Language for General Purpose System Simulation. in IEEE Trans Elec Comp, EC-13(4):401-408 

Knuth D. E. (1968). The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Knuth D. E. (1969). The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Knuth D. E. (1971). Mathematical analysis of algorithms (No. STAN-CS-71-206). STANFORD UNIV CALIF DEPT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE.

Knuth D. E. (1973). The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 3: Sorting and Searching. Boston: Addison-Wesley

Knuth D. E. (1993). The Stanford GraphBase: a platform for combinatorial computing. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

Knuth D. E. (2011). The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms, Part 1. Boston: Pearson Education.

Additional Resources

Stanford University Department of Computer Science. Donald Knuth: Recent News. Accessed June 7, 2015. (link)