Felix Pollaczek

December 1, 1892 – April 21, 1981

Brief Biography

Felix Pollaczek was an Austrian-French engineer and mathematician who is known for significant contributions to number theory, mathematical analysis, statistics, and probability. In operations research, he is celebrated for his long and distinguished career as a queueing theorist. Pollaczek was born in Vienna, Austria to a well-established Jewish family. He studied mathematics at the Technical University of Vienna before pausing his education to serve in World War I. By the war’s end he had reached the rank of lieutenant and had published his first academic paper. Pollaczek resumed his studies, receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Technical University of Brno (Czechoslovakia) and a mathematics PhD from the University of Berlin. His doctoral thesis was supervised by renowned mathematician Issai Schur.

Pollaczek spent two years as an engineer at AEG (Germany’s General Electric Company) in Berlin before taking a position at the German Postal, Telephone, and Telegraph Services. Shortly after Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came into power in 1932, Jewish civil servants were forced out of government jobs. Fearing his life, Pollaczek fled to Paris and remained in France for the rest of his life. He made a living as a consulting engineer for the Society of Studies for Telephone and Telegraph Connections before settling as a research director at the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris. His career was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of France from 1940 to 1944. In the postwar period, his brother, Gustav, would go on to employ operations research in the design of infrastructural and transportation repair plans for a war-ravaged Europe.

In the period between the first and second world wars, queueing theory could not rely on well-established probability theory nor stochastic processes due to the lack of serious development in those areas. Each individual queueing problem required its own translation into a mathematical formulation before classical analysis could be used. For the era, Pollaczek’s work on the many-server queueing model with general service and interarrival distributions alone would have been considered a significant singular contribution. Pollaczek, however, decided to go a step further and redirected the manner in which people analytically approached problems. 

In 1977, the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) awarded Pollaczek the John von Neumann Theory Prize for the development of the so-called Pollaczek-Khintchine formula. The formula, first devised in the mid-1930s and expanded on for many more years, states a relationship between the queue length and service time distributions under certain circumstances. The formula has since grown to refer to the relationship between average queue length and waiting times in general.  Pollaczek was unable to travel to the United States to pick-up the award in-person, but felt very honored to have received recognition from an the American OR community.

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Felix Pollaczek

(2001) Feliz Pollaczek. Heyde C. C. et al., eds. in  Statisticians of the Century, 429-433. Springer: New York.

StatProb: The Encyclopedia sponsored by Statistics and Probability Societies. Felix Pollaczek. Accessed March 25, 2015. (link)

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Pollaczek Biography. Accessed March 25, 2015. (link)


Technical University of Vienna

Technical University of Brno, MS 1920

University of Berlin, PhD 1922 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
  • Technical University of Brno
  • Technical University of Vienna
  • University of Berlin
Non-Academic Affiliations
  • Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft (AEG)
  • Deutsche Bundespost (German Postal, Telephone & Telegraph Services)
  • National Scientific Research Center (Paris)
  • Society of Studies for Telephone and Telegraph Connections

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas


Cohen J. W. (1981) Obituary Felix Pollaczek. Journal of Applied Probability, 18(4): 958-963. (link)

Awards and Honors

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1977

Selected Publications

Pollaczek F. (1917) Uber den grossen Fermatschen Sats. Ber. Akad. Wiss. Wein, Math.-Nat. Kl. Abt. IIa, 126: 45-59.

Pollaczek F. (1930) Theorie des Wartens vor Schaltern. Telegr.-u. Fernsorechtechnik 18: 71-78.

Pollaczek, F. (1949). Réduction de différents problèmes concernant la probabilité d'attente au téléphone, à la résolution de systèmes d'équations intégrales. Annales de l'institut Henri Poincaré, 11(3): 135-173.

Pollaczek, F. (1957). Problèmes stochastiques posés par le phénomène de formation d'une queue d'attente à un guichet et par des phénomènes apparentés. Memorial des Sciences Mathematiques, 136.  

Pollaczek F. (1961) Theorie analytique des problèmes stochastiques relatifs a un groupe de lignes téléphoniques avec dispositif d'attente. Memorial des Sciences Mathematiques, 140.

Pollaczek, F. (1975) Order statistics of partial sums of mutually independent random variables. Journal of Applied Probability, 12(2): 390-395.