Albert W. Tucker

November 28, 1905 – January 25, 1995

Brief Biography

Albert William Tucker was a Canadian-American mathematician and operations researcher. Born in Oshawa, Ontario,  he showed early signs of mathematical genius. He earned a bachelors degree in mathematics in 1928 at the University of Toronto. He remained there another year as a teaching fellow and Masters student. He  then was accepted into Princeton University’s mathematics department for the PhD. There he wrote a dissertation on topology under Solomon Lefschetz in 1932.  In 1932-33, he was a National Research Fellow at Harvard and the University of Chicago.

Tucker became a faculty member in the department of mathematics at Princeton University  in 1933, reaching the position of full professor in 1946. He chaired the department for two decades, and was the Albert Baldwin Dod Professor until his retirement in 1974.

Tucker’s research in the 1930s and 1940s dealt primarily with combinatorial topology. During the World War II he remained in Princeton but worked with Merrill Flood’s Fire Control Project and dealt with pre-radar research and optical range finders for anti-aircraft systems.

In 1947 Tucker had an off-chance encounter with George B. Dantzig, inventor of linear programming, who was visiting Princeton to work with John von Neumann. After a series of conversations, Tucker was asked to head an Office of Naval Research project at the university on logistics.  Through his research together with doctoral students Harold Kuhn and David Gale, Tucker extended the theories of linear programming and games. Afterward, Kuhn and Tucker worked on nonlinear programming and introduced the subject to the field of operations research at the RAND Corporation’s Second Berkeley Symposium.

In game theory, Tucker is best remembered as having recast, named, and popularized the so-called “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. He devised this description for a non-zero-sum, non-cooperative, two-person game originally devised by Flood and Dresher in a military/strategic context for a class of psychology majors at Stanford University. In the scenario, two individuals are charged for the same violation of the law and are separately held by the authorities. Each is told that if one confesses and the other does not, the former will be rewarded one unit (e.g. jail time removed from a sentence) and the other will be punished two units (e.g. additional jail time). On the other hand, if they both confess, both shall be handed the same level of punishment. The real complication lies in the fact that both parties believe that if neither confesses then they will both be set free. Since its conception, Tucker’s dilemma has served as an early example in game theory and economics classrooms across the globe.

Many of his PhD students are well known mathematicians in operations research. The list includes  John von Neumann Theory Prize winner Michel Balinski, David Gale, Turing Award winner Marvin Minsky, John von Neumann prize and Nobel Prize winner John Nash, and John von Neumann Theory prize and Nobel Prize winner Lloyd Shapley.

Tucker was awarded the John von Neumann Prize in 1980 for his contributions to game theory and linear and non-linear optimization. Also, he was deeply involved in advancing the communities of mathematics and science. He served as president of the Mathematics Association of America in the early 1960s, and he organized many NSF summer workshops for high school and college teachers.

One of Tucker's sons, Alan, is a well-known operations researcher teaching at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. 

In 1995 Albert Tucker died of complications from pneumonia in Hightstown, NJ at age 89. 

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Albert W. Tucker
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Wikipedia Entry for Albert W. Tucker

Gass S. I. (2004) IFORS' operational research hall of fame: Albert William Tucker. International Transactions in Operational Research, 11(2): 239-242. (link)

Mathematical Association of America. Governance: Albert William Tucker. Accessed April 4, 2015. (link)

University of St. Andrews School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. Tucker Biography. Accessed April 4, 2015. (link)

University of Toronto. Department of Economics: Albert W. Tucker. Accessed April 4, 2015. (link)


University of Toronto, BA 1928

University of Toronto, MA 1929

Princeton University, PhD 1932 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Albert Tucker (1984) Interviews by William Aspray, April-October. Transcripts 19, 29-40. Princeton, NJ. The Princeton Mathematics Community in the 1930s Oral History Project. 

Albert Tucker (1986) Interview by William Aspray. Transcript. May 8. Princeton, NJ. Charles Babbage Institute. (transcript)


New York Times (1995) Albert W. Tucker, 89, Pioneering Mathematician. January 27. (link)

News from Princeton University. Albert William Tucker. Published January 26, 1995. Accessed April 4, 2015. (link)


Albert William Tucker Pages, 1946-1983. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin. Austin, Texas. (link)

Awards and Honors

MAA Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics 1968

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1980

International Federation of Operational Research Societies Hall of Fame 2004

Professional Service

Mathematical Association of America, President 1961-1962 (link)

Selected Publications

Tucker A. W. (1933) An abstract approach to manifolds. Annals of Mathematics, 34(2): 191-243.

Tucker A. W. (1950) A two-person dilemma (unpublished notes). Rasmusem E. B., ed. in Readings in Games and Information (1989), 7-8. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford.

Gale D., Kuhn H. W., & Tucker A. W. (1951) Linear programming and the theory of games. Koopmans T. C., eds. in Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation, 317-329. Wiley & Sons: New York.

Kuhn H. W. & Tucker A. W. (1951) Nonlinear programming. Neyman J., ed. in Proceedings of the Second Berkeley Symposium on Mathematical Statistics and Probability, 481-492. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

Goldman A. J. & Tucker A. W. (1956) Polyhedral convex cones. Linear Inequalities and Related Systems, 39: 19-39.

Tucker A. W. (1957) Linear and nonlinear programming. Operations Research, 5(2): 244-257.

Miller C. E., Tucker A. W. & Zemlin R. A. (1960) Integer programming formulation of traveling salesman problems. Journal of the ACM, 7(4): 326-329.

Tucker A. W. (1960) Solving a matrix game by linear programming. IBM Journal of Research, 4: 507-517.

Tucker A. W. (1983) The mathematics of Tucker: a sampler. Two-Year College Mathematics Journal, 14(3): 228-282.

Nering E. D. & Tucker A. W. (1993) Linear Programming and Related Problems. Academic Press: Boston.