Leonid V. Kantorovich

January 19, 1912 – April 7, 1986

Brief Biography

Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich was a Soviet mathematician and economic pioneer. For years his work, including the development of linear programming, was largely unknown in the West. In his lifetime, Kantorovich was celebrated for bringing economic reforms to the Soviet Union, introducing flexibility to Marxist theory in a post-Stalinist Russia. For his seminal contributions to resource allocation and economics design, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Tjalling C. Koopmans in 1975.

Kantorovich was born in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and was recognized as an extremely talented student of mathematics and science at an early age - growing up, Kantorovich’s genius was often compared to that of John von Neumann. At fourteen years old, he enrolled at Leningrad State University. By age twenty, he was a full professor at the university and worked with the Institute of Industrial Construction Engineering. He earned his second degree, a Doctorate of Science in Physicomathematical Sciences, three years later. His contributions to math and economics were so rich that many contemporaries assumed it to be the work of two separate individuals – Kantorovich the mathematician and Kantorovich the economist.

In 1939, Kantorovich developed a linear, solution-deriving method (which he called “Lagrange resolving multipliers”) that is quite similar to today’s linear programming. His work was virtually unknown to the West until 1956. Prior to Kantorovich's work reaching the United States, George B. Dantzig independently developed his own algorithm that American and British operations researchers came to recognize as the origins of linear programming. In 1956, the economist Tjalling Koopmans asked Kantorovich to send his journal article on the translocation of masses, a transportation problem dealing with heavy rail haulage. Kantorovich complied and additionally sent Koopmans his 1939 piece on linear programming. Koopmans was intrigued and oversaw the piece’s translation and publication in Management Science. Twenty-one years after its original concept, Kantorovich’s independent development of linear programming was finally publicized to Western academia. To this day, however, there remains controversy as to whether Dantzig or Kantorovich should be considered linear programming’s “true originator”.

Kantorovich was interested in the economic aspects and application of his work. During World War II, he was forced to evacuate the siege of Leningrad and was assigned to a position with the Higher Engineering and Technical School of the USSR Navy. Though he was primarily tasked with military OR instruction, Kantorovich found time to devise a means of bringing linear programming to resource utilization. His venture into economic planning was poorly received and deemed “anti-Marxist” by critics. In the 1950s, Kantorovich’s books had to be prefaced with an explanation and apology for all his “errors”. The 1960s saw a change in attitude, however, as by 1965 many of his suggested reforms were adopted by the Soviet government.

From 1944 onward, Kantorovich spent most of his career with the USSR Academy of Sciences. He was stationed in Leningrad, Moscow, and Akademgorodok (literally: “Academy Town). Kantorovich was not allowed to hold high positions given his refusal to join the Communist Party. He eventually found a comfortable appointment at the Institute for the Management of the National Economy and remained with its research laboratory until his death.

In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Kantorovich received the Stalin State Prize and the Lenin Prize from the Soviet Government, two of the highest honors for a scientist in the USSR. He was posthumously elected into the International Federation of Operational Research Societies’ Hall of Fame in 2003.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Leonid V. Kantorovich
INFORMS Members may access this book for free by logging in.
For more information about this title and many other Springer publications in Operations Research, please click here.

Wikipedia Entry for Leonid Kantorovich

Jewish Virtual Library. Biographies: Leonid Kantorovich. Accessed April 7, 2015. (link)

Makarov V. (1987) Kantorovich, Leonid Vitaliyevich. Eatwell J., Milgate M., & Newman P., eds. in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, Volume 3, 14-15. Macmillan Stockton Press: New York. 

Rosenhead J. (2003) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame: Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich. International Transactions in Operational Research, 10(6): 665-667. (link

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Kantorovich Biography. Accessed April 7, 2015. (link)


Leningrad State University, PhD 1930

Leningrad State University, DSc 1935


Academic Affiliations
  • Leningrad State University (St. Petersburg State University)
  • USSR Navy High Engineering and Technical School
Non-Academic Affiliations
  • Central Asian Water Board
  • Institute for the Management of the National Economy
  • Institute of Industrial Construction Engineering 
  • USSR Academy of Sciences

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Kantorovich L. V. (1990) My journey in science. Leifman L. J., ed. in Functional Analysis, Optimization, and Mathematical Economics, 8-45. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Nobel Prize Foundation. Nobel Prize and Laureates: Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich Autobiography. Accessed January 29, 2015. (link)


Los Angeles Times (1986) Economist Leonid Kantorovich Dies at 75: Nobel Laureate Played Key Role in Reforms of Soviet Economy. April 12. (link)

Awards and Honors

USSR State (Stalin) Prize 1949

Lenin Prize 1965

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1975

International Federation of Operational Research Societies' Hall of Fame 2003

Selected Publications

Kantorovich L. V. (1939) Mathematical Methods in the Organization and Planning of Production. Publication House, Leningrad State University: Leningrad, RU.

Kantorovich L. V. (1940) A new method of solving of some classes of extremal problems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 28: 211-214

Kantorovich L. V. (1942) On the translocation of masses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 37(7): 227-230.

Kantorovich L. V. (1948) Functional analysis and applied mathematics. Uspekhi Matematicheskikh Nauk, 3(6): 89-185.

Gavurin M. & Kantorovich L. V. (1949) The application of mathematical methods to freight flow analysis. Problems in Increasing the Effectiveness of Transport, 110-138. USSR Academy of Sciences: Moscow.

Kantorovich L. V., Pinsker A. G., & Vulikh B. Z. (1950) Functional Analysis in Partially Ordered Spaces. Gostekhizdat: Moscow.

Kantorovich L. V. (1958) Approximate Methods of Higher Analysis. Noordhoff: Groningen, NL.

Kantorovich L. V. (1959) The Best Use of Economic Resources. USSR Academy of Sciences: Moscow.

Akilov G. P., Kantorovich L. V., & Vajnberg M. M. (1964) Variational Methods for the Study of Nonlinear Operators. Holden-Day: San Francisco. 

Additional Resources

Leifman L. J., ed. (1990) Functional Analysis, Optimization, and Mathematical Economics: A Collection of Papers Dedicated to the Memory of Leonid Vital'evich Kantorovich. Oxford University Press: Oxford.