Robert M. Thrall

September 23, 1914 – April 11, 2006

Brief Biography

Thrall Presidential Gallery Photo

Bob Thrall was the sixteenth President of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS) and was a pioneer in operations research. Thrall’s professional career was dedicated to the education and growth of the discipline. He served on the editorial committees of numerous publications. From 1960 to 1967, Thrall was the second editor-in-chief of TIMS main publication, Management Science. Afterwards, he was the journal’s associate editor in charge of Series B (technical) for four years. Some of the other scholarly journals he worked on included The Journal of Conflict Resolution and Behavioral Science. In 1985, he was awarded TIMS’ Distinguished Service Medal for his dedication to the organization.

Thrall received his undergraduate degree from Illinois College and, at the age of twenty-two, earned his masters and PhD in mathematics from the University of Illinois. Upon graduation, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and remained with the school’s mathematics department until 1969. At Michigan, he helped recruit such renowned faculty members such as Seth Bonder and supervised eighteen PhD students, including Gerald L. Thompson. The United States’ entry into the Second World War introduced Thrall to operations research. He developed mathematical models that dealt largely with the military problems of the day including a game theoretic approach to assessing the relative effectiveness of military forces, a game-theoretic model of air warfare, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of surveillance. He continued to be involved with military OR after the war  up through the Vietnam era.    

Thrall took the position extremely seriously and found it necessary to educate himself on as many relevant areas of management science and operations research as he could. In this process of self-education, he developed a passion for OR education and designed his own instructional methods. He built a foundation for unprecedented educational development of the discipline. As president of TIMS, Thrall’s care for international OR growth was best seen in his endorsement of transferring TIMS funds to the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) at the University of Louvain in Belgium. Since its establishment, CORE has become a world leader in operations research, including Data Envelopment Analysis.

Thrall moved to Rice University in 1969 to head the school’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, which had broken away from the general Mathematics Department. He chaired the Department for nine years before receiving a joint appointment in the University’s newly established Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business. Thrall became very involved with operations research for the state of Texas. He worked closely with University of Houston professors Barton Smith and Russell G. Thompson on numerous occasions, helping devise plans for the establishment of a major, physics laboratory in the state. Beginning in 1984, he placed his emphasis on Data Envelopment Analysis and started a twenty year collaboration with University of Texas professor William W. Cooper.

Thrall continued to be an active researcher well into his eighties, bringing journals a steady stream of handwritten drafts and manuscript reviews. In 2002, he was elected into the inaugural class of Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences Fellows. Thrall settled down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he passed away in April, 2006.

Other Biographies

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: Robert M. Thrall. Accessed March 5, 2015. (link)


Illinois College, BA 1935

University of Illinois, Ma 1937

University of Illinois, PhD 1937 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

  • Data envelopment analysis
Application Areas


Legacy. Philly Obitiuares: Robert M. Thrall Notice. Published April 13, 2006. Accessed March 5, 2015. (link)

Awards and Honors

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

George E. Kimball Award (TIMS Distinguished Service Medal) 1985

Professional Service

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1969-1970

Selected Publications

 Coombs C. H., Davis R. L. & Thrall R. M. (1953) Decision Processes. Wiley & Sons: New York.

Lucas W. G. & Thrall R. M. (1963) N-person games in partition function form. Naval Research Logistics Quarterly, 10(1): 281-298.

Thrall R. M. (1970) Management Science Education. Management Science, 17(2): B-35 – B-36.

Singleton Jr. F. D., Smith B. A., Thompson R. G, & Thrall R. M. (1986) Comparative Site Evaluations for locating a High Energy Physics Lab in Texas. Interfaces, 16(6): 35-49.

Seiford L. M. & Thrall R. M. (1990) Recent developments in DEA: the mathematical programming approach to frontier analysis. Journal of Econometrics, 46(1): 7-38.

Banker R. D. & Thrall R. M. (1992) Estimation of returns to scale using data envelopment analysis. European Journal of Operational Research, 62(1): 74-84.

Cooper W. W., Thompson R. G., & Thrall R. M. (1996) Introduction: Extensions and new developments in DEA. Annals of Operations Research, 66(1): 1-45.

Thrall R. M. (1996) Duality, classification, and slacks in DEA. Annals of Operations Research, 66(2): 109-138.