Tjalling C. Koopmans

August 28, 1910 – February 26, 1985

Brief Biography

Tjalling Charles Koopmans was a Dutch-American Nobel Prize winning economist. Born in an idyllic North Holland village, Koopmans was raised in a strict, Calvinist household. He attended a private high school and developed an interest in the philosophy of science. Koopmans disappointed his family when he chose not to join the Dutch Reform Church and abandon the Protestant faith. He was first introduced to the “unreliable, unstable, and most of all, iniquitous” world of economics during the Great Depression. Seeking to learn more about the subject, he read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and was stirred by socialist ideology.

Koopmans eventually expanded his economic pallet at the Universities of Utretch and Leiden. He was introduced to mathematical economics and econometrics by Jan Tinbergen and studied under Oslo’s Ragnar Frisch. Though Koopmans presented his dissertation to Leiden’s Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, he heavily incorporated aspects of economic theory. He replaced Tinbergen, who had accepted a business development position in Geneva, at the Dutch School of Economics in Rotterdam before joining the Financial Section of the League of Nations.

As World War II spread to Western Europe in 1940, Koopmans migrated to the United State with aid from Princeton University’s Sam Wilks. He joined the Allied war effort as a statistician for the British Merchant Shipping Mission in Washington and was introduced to operations research in transportation. Later during the War, Koopmans worked with the British-American Combined Shipping Board and independently investigated and solved Frank L. Hitchcock’s classical transportation problem on the shipping of goods from supply origins to demand destinations at a minimal cost. This has since been called the Hitchcock-Koopmans transportation problem.

In the mid-1940s, Koopmans was invited by Jacob Marschak to join the Cowles Commission of Economics Research at the University of Chicago. Koopmans’ work on transportation models expanded to include the study of activity analysis after a conversation with George B. Dantzig. He and Dantzig developed a close professional and personal relationship (it was Koopmans who was the first to suggest the name “linear programming”). In June 1949, Cowles sponsored a conference at which Dantzig, Albert W. Tucker, Harold Kuhn, Koopmans, and others presented papers that later served as the theoretical foundations of linear programming. Koopmans was the editor of the conference’s proceedings, Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation (1951).

Koopmans continued his association with the Commission when it became the Cowles Foundation and relocated to Yale University in 1955. He was appointed the Alfred Cowles Professor of Economics at Yale that year and remained in that position until his retirement in 1980. In the 1950s and 1960s, Koopmans examined the state of economic science and the use of mathematical reasoning. In the late sixties, he developed optimal economic growth models.

In 1975, when he and Leonid Kantorovich were awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences for advancements in linear programming and resource allocation, Koopmans was upset that Dantzig was not also recognized. He seriously contemplated refusing the prize but ultimately conceded. Koopmans therefore gave a forty thousand dollar gift (the dollar amount of what Dantzig would have received had he also won) to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis where both he and Dantzig had both worked. 

Koopmans was president of both the American Economics Association and the Econometric Society. He was also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. Koopmans passed away in 1985 after suffering a series of cerebral strokes. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Tjalling Koopmans

(2008) Tjalling Charles Koopmans (1910-1985). Henderson D. R., in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, 2nd Edition. Library of Economics and Liberty. Liberty Fund: Indianapolis, IN. 

Encyclopedia Britannica. Tjalling C. Koopmans, American Economist. Accessed August 9, 2018. (link

Simon, Herbert E. (1995)  Tjalling Charles Koopmans.Biographical Memoirs v. 67, National Academies Press (link)

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Koopmans Biography. Accessed December 22, 2017. (link)


University of Utrecht, MS 1932

University of Leiden, PhD 1936 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations
  • British-American Combined Shipping Board 
  • International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
  • League of Nations
  • Ministry of War Transport

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Nobel Prize Foundation. Nobel Prize and Laureates: Tjalling C. Koopmans Autobiography. Accessed April 12, 2015. (link)


New York Times (1985) Dr. Tjalin C. Koopmans, Won a '75 Nobel Honor in Economics. March 2. (link)


Staff, Yale University Manuscripts and Archives (1986) Guide to the Tjalling Charles Koopmans papers.  MS 1439 (link)

Awards and Honors

National Academy of Sciences Member 1969

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

Professional Service

  • American Economics Society, President 1978
  • Econometric Society, President 1950

Selected Publications

 Koopmans T. C. (1939) Tanker Freight Rates and Tankship Building: An Analysis of Cyclical Fluctuations.  De Erven F. Bohn: NL.

Koopmans T. C. (1947) Measurement without theory. The Review of Economic Statistics, 29(3): 161-172.

Koopmans T. C. (1949) Identification problems in economic model construction. Econometrica, Journal of the Econometric Society, 17(2): 125-144

Koopmans T. C., ed. (1951) Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation. John Wiley & Sons: New York. 

Koopmans T. C. (1957) Three Essays On The State of Economic Science. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Koopmans T. C. & Beckmann M. (1957) Assignment problems and the location of economic activities. Econometrica, Journal of the Econometric Society, 25(1) 53-76.

Koopmans T. C. (1963) On the Concept of Optimal Economic Growth (No. 163A) Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University: New Haven, CT.

Koopmans T. C., Diamond P. A., & Williamson R. E. (1964) Stationary utility and time perspective. Econometrica, Journal of the Econometric Society, 32(1): 82-100.

Koopmans T. C. (1969) Objectives, Constraints, and Outcomes in Growth Models. Springer Heidelberg: Berlin.

Koopmans T. C. (1972) Representation of preference orderings over time. McGuire C. B. & Radner R., eds. in Decision and Organization (No. 366b), 79-100. Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University: New Haven, CT.

Additional Resources

Wikiquote for Tjallling Koopmans