Philip M. Morse

August 4, 1903 – September 5, 1985

Brief Biography

Philip M. Morse

Considered the founder of operations research in the United States, Phillip M. Morse was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Morse followed in his father’s footsteps and attended Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western), earning a bachelor’s degree in 1926. After receiving an attractive scholarship and stipend from Princeton University, Morse went on to earn a PhD in 1929. At Princeton, he first met George E. Kimball and began what would become a lifelong friendship and collaboration. Morse quickly immersed himself in the study and research of physics and developed a fascination for quantum mechanics prior to joining the MIT faculty in 1931.

At the start of World War II, Morse was recruited to bring his expertise to the U.S. Navy. He turned his attention towards projects that utilized his knowledge of physics, namely acoustical technology for submarines (sonar). Morse organized the Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Research Group (ASWORG) for the U.S. Navy early in 1942, bringing Kimball on as his deputy. With Kimball, Morse developed the Morse and Kimball U-boat Circulation Model. This model of analysis focused on Allied merchant ships that remained afloat rather than on enemy submarines that had been sunk. ASWORG was able to work backwards and estimate the total number of German subs based on the relationship between sunk and afloat merchant vessels.

Drawing from their work with the Navy, Morse and Kimball co-authored the first textbook on OR, Methods of Operations Research (1952). Morse’s continued interest in military OR led him to the formation of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) in 1949. He eventually received the U.S. Presidential Medal for Merit in recognition of his extraordinary service during World War II. Morse left ASWORG (eventually re-purposed into the Operations Evaluation Group) in 1945, paving way for Jacinto Steinhardt to head the organization.  

Morse was a significant player in the postwar growth of operations research. He was convinced that OR could be employed in a nonmilitary setting and played a major role in the establishment of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), serving as it first president in 1952. He launched MIT’s Operations Research Center in 1956 and awarded the first ever PhD in OR to John D.C. Little. Using his military contacts, Morse helped initiate a number of research programs and scholarships to students interested in OR. He gave the opening address at the first meeting of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS) in 1957. Morse also chaired the first NATO advisory panel on OR.

Some of Morse’s most influential work in OR following the Second World War was in library operations and policies. He sped up the process acquisition and distribution in libraries. In 1968, he was awarded the Fred Lanchester Prize by ORSA for his book Library Effectiveness: A Systems Approach. Since 1987, the Philip McCord Morse Lectureship has been awarded every two years to deserving individuals every two years.

Prior to his retirement from MIT, Morse was a major player at the university and helped establish the MIT Computation Center in 1957. Morse advanced OR in the public sector by serving as a consultant and board member for many organizations. These included such pioneering OR corporations as RAND and the Arthur D. Little. His later work involved expanding operations research globally, as seen in a 1976 article he co-authored with Arthur A. Brown on how the International Federation of Operational Research Societies could aid in the implementation of OR in developing countries. Morse is remembered for his work in developing and expanding OR methods and techniques within the private, public, and university sectors.   

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Philip M. Morse
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Wikipedia Entry for Philip M. Morse

Feshback H. (1994) Philip McCord Morse, 1903-1985. National Academy of Sciences: Washington D.C. (link)

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Philip M. Morse. Accessed January 15, 2015. (link)

Little J. D. C. (2002) Philip M. Morse and the Beginnings. Operations Research, 50 (1): 146-148. (link)

Little J. D. C. (2003) IFORS’ Operational Research Hall of Fame: Philip McCord Morse. International Transactions in Operations Research 10 (3): 307-309.  (link)

Education

Case School of Applied Sciences (Case Western Reserve University), BS 1926

Princeton University, MA 1927

Princeton University, PhD 1929 (Mathematics Genealogy)

Affiliations

Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Methodologies
Application Areas

Oral Histories

Philip Morse (1970) Interview by Richard R. Metz. December 16. Computer Oral History Collection, 1969-1973, 1977. Archives Center, National Museum of American History. (transcript)

Memoirs and Autobiographies

Memoirs

Morse P. M. (1977) In the Beginnings: A Physicist's Life. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. 

Obituaries

New York Times (1985) Philip McCord Morse, Physicist, September 13. (link)

Archives

Philip McCord Morse Papers, 1927-1980. Institute Archives and Special Collections. MIT Libraries. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (link)

Awards and Honors

U.S. Presidential Medal of Merit 1943

National Academy of Sciences 1955

U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom 1956

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize 1968

Acoustical Society of America's Gold Medal Award 1973

George E. Kimball Medal 1974

International Federation of Operational Research Societies' Hall of Fame 2003 

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1952

Selected Publications

Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Research Group (1942) Preliminary report on the submarine search problem. CNA 82-04931/1, Declassified April 1982. Center for Naval Analysis: Alexandria, VA. 

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

Morse P. M. (1952) The Operations Research Society of America. The Journal of the Operations Research Society of America, 1 (1): 1-3.

Morse P. M. (1954) Progress in Operations Research. McCloskey J. F. & Trefethen F. N., eds. in Operations Research for Management, 99-116. Johns Hopkins: Baltimore.

Morse P. M. (1956) Training in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Operations Research, 4(6): 733-735. (link)

Morse P. M. (1958) Queues, Inventory and Maintenance. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Bacon L. W. & Morse P. M., eds. (1967) Operations Research for Public Systems. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. 

Morse. P. M. (1968) Library effectiveness: a systems approach. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Brown A. A. & Morse P. M. (1976) Operations research in the developing countries—A role for IFORS. Operational Research, 75(1): 111-124.