William W. Cooper

June 21, 1914 – June 20, 2012

Brief Biography

William W. Cooper

Born in Alabama but raised in Depression-era Chicago, William W. Cooper was well accustomed to getting into “scrapes” during his youth. With financial pressure building on his family, Cooper became a professional boxer, winning fifty-eight of his sixty-three bouts. Through a chance encounter while hitchhiking, he met Eric Louis Kohler, a successful accountant who became Cooper’s patron. Kohler financed Cooper’s undergraduate education at the University of Chicago, where he initially majored in physical chemistry, switching to economics so he could get employment during the Depression. After proving his mathematical skills, Cooper took a job with Andersen & before following his mentor as an assistant comptroller for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1938.

Cooper left the TVA in 1940 to pursue graduate study at Columbia University. He finished his coursework and dissertation but was never awarded a PhD due to its controversial claim that decision making was not a centralized process. A frustrated Cooper left Columbia to be the Principal Economist for the Bureau of the Budget, with responsibility to coordinate “all U.S. government work on accounting statistics and related aspects of programs for war procurement programs, price control, production allocations and related economic studies.”

Following World War II, Cooper returned to the University of Chicago as an economics professor in 1945 He shortly after moved to the Carnegie Institute of Technology where he helped establish the Graduate School of Industrial Application (GSIA) as the OR faculty leader. At GSIA, Cooper attracted funding and problems from external sources and brought a real-world focus for his students to experience. It was at Carnegie that he began his close collaboration with Abraham Charnes. The duo published over two hundred pieces together. Cooper left Carnegie-Mellon in 1975 for the Harvard Business School. After five years, he joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin under George Kozmetsky and reunited with Charnes.

Over the course of his career, Cooper made multiple contributions to Operations Research. These advancements largely stemmed from the problems that various companies had given to him and his students at GSIA. As Cooper saw it, "the research is to begin with an actual application problem, usually in association with knowledgeable company officials." In 1955 Cooper, Charnes and consultant Robert Ferguson introduced Goal Programming, a variant of Linear Programming that, rather than minimizing cost or maximizing profits,  minimizes deviations in absolute value from a set of prioritized goals, including the extent to which constraints are satisfied, in accordance with Herbert Simon’s notion of “satisficing". With student Eduardo Rhodes, Charnes and Cooper also developed data envelopment analysis (DEA), a form of linear programming that determines whether decision making units in an organization are making efficient use of their inputs and outputs, and fractional programming, an approach that optimizes ratios such as profit/capital, which are not typically linear functions of the decision variables. His paper on DEA is the most cited paper to ever appear in the European Journal of Operations Research. Later in his career, he made further strides on DEA with Rice University professor, Robert M. Thrall. Cooper and Charnes’ developments on chance-constrained programming (CCP), a form of optimization in which the parameters of the problem are random variables, and constraints are to be met with w pre-specified probability rather than with certainty, helped in solving scheduling and production issues. Seeking to improve general decision-making processes, Cooper developed a CCP model to resolve classical decision selection problems.

In 1954, Cooper served as the first president of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS). He established the TIMS journal, Management Sciences, and served on the editorial boards of multiple other publications. In 1982, he was awarded the John von Neumann Theory Prize with Charnes and Richard J. Duffin for contributions to optimization methods, concepts, and models for problems of decision, planning, and design.

A few years prior to his death, Cooper summarized the drive in his life stating, “I like solving problems, I like advancing knowledge, and I like helping people.” 

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: William W. Cooper
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Wikipedia Entry for William W. Cooper

Banker RD (2006) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame William W. Cooper. International Transactions in Operations Research, 13(4): 279-383. (link)

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: William W. Cooper. Accessed January 13, 2015. (link)

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. William Wager Cooper Biography. Accessed January 13, 2015. (link)


University of Chicago, 1938 BA

Columbia University (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Memoirs and Autobiographies


William W. Cooper Professional Biography


Cooper W. W. (2002) Abraham Charnes and W. W. Cooper (et al.): A brief history of a long collaboration in developing industrial uses of linear programming. Operations Research, 50: 35-41. (link)


(2012) INFORMS News: In Memoriam - William W. Cooper. ORMS Today, 39 (4). (link)

McCombs Today (2012) Professor William W. Cooper, Pioneer in Operations Research, Dies at 97, June 20. The University of Texas at Austin. (link)

Awards and Honors

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1982

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Multiple Criteria Decision Making Society Gold Medal Award 2004

INFORMS Impact Prize 2006

Professional Service

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1954

Selected Publications

Cooper W. W. (1951) A Proposal for Extending the Theory of the Firm. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 87-109.

Charnes A., Cooper W. W., & Mellon B. (1952) Blending aviation gasolines – a study in programming interdependent activities. Goldstein L. & Orden A., eds. in Proceedings: Symposium on Linear Inequalities and Programming, 115-145. USAF Headquarters: Washington.

Charnes A., Cooper W. W., & Henderson A. (1953) An Introduction to Linear Programming. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Charnes A. & Cooper W. W. (1954) The stepping Stone method of explaining linear programming calculation in transportation problems. Management Science 1(1): 49-69.

Charnes A. & Cooper W. W. (1961) Management Models and Industrial Applications of Linear Programming, Volume 1. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Charnes A. & Cooper W. W. (1977) Goal programming and multiple objective optimizations: Part 1. European Journal of Operational Research, 1(1): 39-54.

Charnes A., Cooper W. W., & Rhodes E. (1978) Measuring the efficiency of decision making units. European journal of operational research, 2 (6): 429-444.

Banker R. D., Charnes A., & Cooper W. W. (1984) Some models for estimating technical and scale inefficiencies in data envelopment analysis. Management science, 30(9): 1078-1092.

Ahn T., Charnes A., & Cooper W. W. (1988) A Note of the Efficiency Characteristics Obtained in Different DEA Models. Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, 22: 253-257.

Charnes A., Cooper W. W., & Thrall R. M. (1991) A structure for classifying and characterizing efficiency and inefficiency in data envelopment analysis. Journal of Productivity Analysis, 2 (3): 197-237.

Cooper W. W. (1996) Data Envelopment Analysis. Gass S. I & Harris C. M., eds. in Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science, Volume I. Kluwer Academic Publishers: Boston.

Additional Resources