Obituaries of George Dantzig


Vanguard Mathematician George Dantzig Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005; B06

George B. Dantzig, 90, a mathematician who devised a formula that revolutionized planning, scheduling, network design and other complex functions integral to modern-day business, industry and government, died May 13 at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. The cause of death, according to his daughter, was complications from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Dantzig was known as the father of linear programming and as the inventor of the "simplex method," an algorithm for solving linear programming problems.

"He really created the field," said Irvin Lustig, an operations research software consultant who was Dr. Dantzig's student at Stanford University.

Dr. Dantzig's seminal work allows the airline industry, for example, to schedule crews and make fleet assignments. It's the tool that shipping companies use to determine how many planes they need and where their delivery trucks should be deployed. The oil industry long has used linear programming in refinery planning, as it determines how much of its raw product should become different grades of gasoline and how much should be used for petroleum-based byproducts. It's used in manufacturing, revenue management, telecommunications, advertising, architecture, circuit design and countless other areas.

"The virtually simultaneous development of linear programming and computers led to an explosion of applications, especially in the industrial sector," Stanford University Professor Arthur F. Veinott Jr. said in a statement. "For the first time in history, managers were given a powerful and practical method of formulating and comparing extremely large numbers of interdependent alternative courses of action to find one that was optimal."

George Bernard Dantzig was born in Portland, Ore., in 1914. His father, Tobias Dantzig, was a Russian mathematician who had gone to Paris to study with Henri Poincare, the renowned French mathematician and philosopher of science. Tobias Dantzig married Anja Ourisson, a student at the Sorbonne who also was studying mathematics, and the couple immigrated to the United States.

In the early 1920s, the Dantzig family moved to Baltimore and then to Washington, where Anja Dantzig became a linguist at the Library of Congress and her husband taught mathematics at the University of Maryland. Their son attended Powell Junior High School and Central High School, where he was fascinated by geometry. His father nurtured his interest by challenging him with complex geometry problems -- thousands of them.

Dr. Dantzig received his bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Maryland in 1936 and his master's degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1937.

Although he enjoyed statistics, abstract mathematics bored him. Abandoning academia, he moved back to Washington in 1937 and took a job with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 1939, he resumed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, studying statistics under mathematician Jerzy Neyman. An incident during his first year at Berkeley became a math-world legend.

As Dr. Dantzig recalled years later, he arrived late for class one day and saw two problems on the blackboard that he assumed were homework assignments. He copied them down, took them home and solved them after a few days. "The problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual," he said.

On a Sunday morning six weeks later, an excited Neyman banged on his student's front door, eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.

"That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them," Dr. Dantzig recalled.

From 1941 to 1946, he was the civilian head of the combat analysis branch of the Air Force's Headquarters Statistical Control. His task was to find a way of managing "hundreds of thousands of different kinds of material goods and perhaps fifty thousand specialties of people," seemingly intractable problems that spurred his search for a mathematical model for what would become linear programming.

He received his doctorate from Berkeley in 1946 and returned to Washington, where he became a mathematical adviser at the Defense Department, charged with mechanizing the planning process. Based partly on his earlier work with aircraft supply flow, he worked out the simplex algorithm.

In 1952, he became a research mathematician with the Rand Corp. and began implementing linear programming on computers. In 1960, he became a professor at Berkeley and chairman of the Operations Research Center, and in 1966, professor of operations research and computer science at Stanford University. He remained at Stanford until his retirement in the mid-1990s.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Anne Dantzig of Palo Alto; three children, David Dantzig of Cleveland, Paul Dantzig of New York and Jessica Klass of Berkeley; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

His daughter noted that as an influential teacher for many years, her father had two families -- his own and the hundreds of students who studied and worked with him throughout his long career.

He won numerous awards for his groundbreaking work, including the National Medal of Science in 1975.

He was the author of the pioneering book "Linear Programming and Extensions" (1963), updated in 1997 and 2003, and he co-authored "Compact City" (1973). He had been working on a science fiction novel in recent years, "In His Own Image," about a plague that wipes out mankind.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

May 23, 2005
George B. Dantzig Dies at 90; Devised Math Solution to Broad Problems

Dr. George B. Dantzig, a mathematician who devised an algorithm that helped create linear programming, now a vital tool in computing, industry and other fields, died on May 13 at his home in Stanford, Calif. He was 90.

The cause was complications from diabetes and heart disease, his family said.

Dr. Dantzig, who was an emeritus professor of operations research and computer science at Stanford University, began his career working for the federal government, analyzing labor and military statistics.

While making calculations for the Air Force in 1947, Dr. Dantzig developed the simplex algorithm, which enabled mathematicians, economists and others to consider large numbers of variables in broad-reaching decisions about the production and allocation of airplanes, their parts and raw materials.

He performed his research with primitive calculators, but the completion of the simplex algorithm coincided with the development of the computer, soon allowing more complicated problems to be solved in markedly less time. The field that resulted, called linear programming, has been applied subsequently to utilities, oil refineries, investments and the steel industry to aid in planning and efficiency under uncertain conditions. It has also been used to prepare cost-effective nutritional diets and coordinate the routes of commercial aircraft.

Dr. Dantzig explained his methods in a landmark book published in 1963, "Linear Programming and Extensions."

Dr. Saul I. Gass, an emeritus professor of operations research at the University of Maryland, recalled that Dr. Dantzig "looked at a class of problems, recognized the structure behind it and then set up a mathematical basis that would maximize efficiency and minimize the costs."

Dr. Gass added: "The proof was really in the practice. George's algorithms succeeded in solving large problems in a few steps."

In the 1950's and 60's, Dr. Dantzig broadened his simplex method to economic models, to reduce paper waste in the printing industry and to other problems of applied mathematics. With another researcher, Philip Wolfe, he developed the Dantzig-Wolfe decomposition principle, which is intended to simplify oversized problems in planning and logistics involving vast amounts of data.

Like the simplex method, the principle is expressed in mathematical terms "as an elegant algorithm and theory that has since been modified and extended to many other domains," said Dr. Robert Freund, a professor of operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former student of Dr. Dantzig's.

Dr. Dantzig's other interests included game theory, quadratic programming and a means of studying problems that involve significant uncertainty, known as stochastic programming. Dr. Freund said Dr. Dantzig's pioneering research in linear programming had yielded "bold new mathematical tools" for the field of operations research, which applies analytic methods to various forms of decision making.

The son of a mathematician, George Bernard Dantzig was born in Portland, Ore. He received degrees from Maryland and the University of Michigan before earning his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1946.

After working for the Air Force, Dr. Dantzig joined the RAND Corporation in 1952 as a research mathematician. In 1960, he became a professor of operations research at Berkeley. He moved to Stanford in 1966 and continued to teach and publish into the 1990's.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford awarded him the National Medal of Science. Dr. Dantzig was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Anne; two sons, David, of Cleveland, and Paul, of Scarsdale, N.Y.; a daughter, Jessica Klass of El Cerrito, Calif.; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company