Saul Gass (1926-2013), Practitioner-Historian of Operations Research March 23, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Operations Research.
Tags: Arjang Assad, George Dantzig, Saul Gass
I was just passing by the website of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), and was sorry to see that Saul Gass has died. Gass was a well-known name in the OR and computation community. He was part of the U. S. Air Force’s Project SCOOP, which, led by George Dantzig (1914-2005), developed the widely used mathematical technique of linear programming (which is also elemental in modern economic theory), and the powerful simplex algorithm. Later, while working for IBM, he was the manager of the Simulation Group of the Mercury Man-in-Space Program. For more on Gass, see INFORMS’s online memorial, or, better still, essays in the Festschrift for Gass’s 80th birthday (much of which is available via Google Books).
I wanted to mention Gass here, because he is also the type of person who is invaluable to professional historians of science: the practitioner-historian. We historians sometimes set up an “official” or “insider” story as a kind of foil for our work, but if we’re being honest we’ll have to admit we depend greatly on the work of insiders. Among other essays, Gass wrote a handy piece called “The First Linear Programming Shoppe” on Project SCOOP in the truly useful 50th anniversary issue of Operations Research. He also teamed with Arjang Assad to compile An Annotated Timeline of Operations Research: An Informal History (2005), which is pretty much what it says on the tin (as the British like to say). Personally, I love it for its copious references. The two teamed up again to edit the very useful biography collection Profiles in Operations Research (2011).
When I was first starting in on the history of OR, Gass was also very supportive of my work. I was part of two history sessions at INFORMS Annual Meetings (a very different, much larger beast than HSS), which he was involved with. That experience actually led to my first publication. Gass also kindly lent me his personal copies of Project SCOOP reports. The above image is his copy of the touchstone report, “Scientific Planning of Military Programs” (1948). Thanks for being a friend to history, Saul.