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George Bernard Dantzig

George Bernard Dantzig


American Mathematician

George Dantzig is the founder of linear programming, a mathematical method that has had extensive applications in a variety of areas, from logistics management to computer programming. Simultaneous with his development of linear programming was his discovery of the simplex method, a problem-solving algorithm that has proven highly efficient in the linear programming of computers. His interest in the application of his ideas has taken him into a variety of pursuits, including the coauthorship of a seminal text in urban planning, Compact City (1973).

Dantzig's father, Tobias, participated in the abortive Revolution of 1905 in Russia. After spending nine months in a Russian prison, the elder Dantzig emigrated to Paris, where he studied mathematics at the Sorbonne. He married Anja Ourisson, moved to the United States in 1909, and settled in Portland, Oregon, where George was born on November 8, 1914. Tobias went on to write Number: The Language of Science, an influential book on the evolution of numbers in relation to that of the human mind.

George studied mathematics at the University of Maryland, receiving his B.A. in 1936. Also in 1936, he married Anne Shmumer, with whom he had three children, David, Jessica, and Paul. After his graduation, he was appointed Horace Rackham Scholar at the University of Michigan, and earned his M.A. there in 1938. Dantzig went to work for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for two years, then enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he would later obtain his Ph.D.

World War II interrupted Dantzig's doctoral studies, however, and in 1941 he left the university to take a position as chief of the combat analysis branch at the U.S. Army Air Corps's statistical control headquarters. In 1944, he received the Exceptional Civilian Service Medal from the War Department. He returned to Berkeley to complete his doctoral studies under statistician Jerzy Neyman, and earned his Ph.D. in 1946.

Following the completion of his doctoral work, Dantzig returned to employment with the Air Corps, which in 1947 became the United States Air Force. The latter had initiated Project SCOOP, or Scientific Computation of Optimum Programs, which was intended to optimize the deployment of forces. While working on the project, Dantzig found that linear programming could be applied to all manner of planning problems. He also discovered the simplex method, an algorithm which, with its wide applicability to programming problems, further revealed the range of uses inherent in linear programming.

Dantzig's research was aided by the development of computers then taking place under the aegis of the Department of Defense, as the War Department had been renamed in 1947. Among the areas of interest to him were "best value" calculations, a means of finding the optimal value for a set of variables in a complex problem. "Best value" calculations would enable the Air Force, for instance, to deploy the most effective number of personnel in a manner that made optimal use of geography and available resources.

In 1952, Dantzig went to work with the RAND Corporation, but by 1960, the growing development of operations research as a field of academic studies led the University of California, Berkeley, to offer him a position as chairman of its Operational Research Center. He published Linear Programming and Extensions, a highly influential work on linear programming, whose origins he traced to the work of Fourier more than a century earlier.

Dantzig in 1966 became professor of operational research and computer science at Stanford, and served as acting chairman of the university's operational research department from 1969 to 1970. Along with mathematician Philip Wolfe, he developed the decomposition principle, a method for solving extremely large equations. Dantzig and Thomas L. Saaty conducted extensive research on urban planning with an aim toward providing more livable urban communities, and published their findings in Compact City (1973). In the following year, he was appointed to an endowed chair at Stanford.

During the 1970s, Dantzig received a number of honors, most notably the National Medal of Science, awarded in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford in recognition of his work in linear programming. He continued to travel and lecture widely.


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