Elliott W. Montroll

May 4, 1916 – December 3, 1983

Brief Biography

Elliott Waters Montroll was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The son of a Polish immigrant, Montroll was encouraged by his American-born mother to pursue his interest in chemistry. He earned a degree in the subject before switching to mathematics. Montroll received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh at the age of twenty three.

Montroll spent his first three postdoctoral years jumping from Columbia to Yale to Cornell. He accepted a more permanent instructorship position at Princeton University in late 1942. During the height of the Second World War, Montroll worked at the Kellex Corporation in New York, analyzing arising problems in the production of the atomic bomb. Afterwards, he briefly held positions at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and his alma mater. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maryland in 1951, Montroll served as the director of physical science at the Office of Naval Research in Washington.

In the late 1950s, Montroll started working with Robert Herman of the General Motors Corporation Laboratories. He became part of a group of traffic researchers that included Robert E. Chandler, Denos GazisRenfrey B. Potts, Richard W. Rohtery, and Herman. The six men wrote a trio of articles for Operations Research on the subject of traffic dynamics and traffic flow. The three papers were awarded the 1959 Frederick W. Lanchester Prize for best publication in operations research from that year. They were lauded for the representation of “a fruitful application of a rich body of mathematical theory persuasively supported by experimental and computational evidence.” Montroll was responsible for some of the earliest experimental studies on car following that set up the series. That year’s award set a precedent for the prize selection Committee to encourage the publication of a series of papers reporting to a single research agenda as it progresses.

Montroll left Maryland in 1960 to become the Director of General Science at the IBM Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights and, three years later, Vice President for Research at the Institute for Defense Analysis.  He joined the University of Rochester as an Einstein Professor before returning to the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland in 1981. At the various universities where Montroll taught, he supervised a large number of successful doctoral students. His research groups were known for their lively atmosphere and comprised with researchers with varying levels of experience, allowing for generationally diverse dialogue.

An elected member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Montroll was the founder and first editor of the Journal of Mathematical Physics. In addition to his work on transportation science and statistical mechanics, he wrote papers on the denaturation of DNA, model building in the biological and behavioral sciences, and the history of science. Montroll passed away in 1983 but is fondly remember as a Renaissance man of the twentieth century who allowed few aspects of life or science to escape his attention. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Elliott Waters Montroll 

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Montroll Biography. Accessed June 12, 2015. (link)

Weiss G. H. (1994) Elliott Waters Montroll. National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, 365-380. National Academy of Sciences: Washington, DC. (link)


University of Pittsburgh, BS 1937

University of Pittsburgh, PhD 1940 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas


Gazis D. C. & Herman R. (1984) In memory of Elliott W. Montroll. Transportation Science, 18(2): 99-100. (link)

Maradudin A. A. & Wallis S. R. F. (1985) Elliott Waters Montroll, physical sciences: Irvine. University of California: In Memoriam, 1985, 299-301. University of California Senate: Berkeley, CA. (link)


Elliott Montroll papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. Accessed March 14, 2019.  (link)

Awards and Honors

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize 1959

National Academy of Science 1969

American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1973

Selected Publications

Montroll E. W. (1941) Statistical mechanics of nearest neighbor systems. Journal of Chemical Physics, 9(9): 706-721.

Montroll E. W. (1947) On the theory of Markov chains. Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 18(1): 18-36. 

Chandler R. E., Herman R., & Montroll E. W. (1958) Traffic dynamics: studies in car following. Operations Research, 6(2): 165-184.

Herman R., Montroll E. W., Potts R. B., & Rohtery R. W. (1959) Traffic dynamics: analysis of stability in car following. Operations Research, 7(1): 86-106.