Herbert Simon

Herbert A. Simon (b. Milwaukee, 1916-d. Pittsburgh, 2001) received his A. B. in Political Science at the University of Chicago in 1936.  He earned his Ph.D. in 1943 from the same department headed by Charles Merriam. Merriam’s faculty favored dissolving boundaries between departmental disciplines and methodologies and applying systematic observation and quantitative analysis to political science.  The environment was a productive influence on Simon, who believed, even at the age of 17 that “the idea that human behavior could be studied scientifically,” and had seen, “if dimly, the challenge of bringing to social science…the mathematical thinking that had been so powerful” in hard sciences.

Simon’s undergraduate coursework in price theory gave him “a glimpse of the applications of rigor and mathematics to economics.”  At the University of Chicago, Simon pursued private study in higher mathematics, eventually reading the equivalent of a doctoral curriculum.  Progressing into graduate work, Simon learned from faculty outside the Political Science department about the significant advantages of constructing mathematical models of biological phenomena, of the uses of modern statistical theory in economics; and of the importance of logical foundations to the sciences. The latter knowledge would be useful to Simon in his computer science work: first, in writing programming languages based on syllogistic reasoning; and then, in defining the new field of computer studies as a logically-based science—as he did with Allen Newell in their joint A. M. Turing Award lecture, "Computer Science as Empirical Inquiry: Symbols and Search," in 1975. 

After several projects in city management analysis under the tutelage of Professor Clarence Ridley, Simon turned his attention to organizational decision making. His Chicago thesis, Administrative Behavior (1943; published, with revisions, 1947) eschewed previous classical theorizing on corporate decisions.  Where the classical model postulated an informed, centralized executive choosing amid a wealth of information to maximize profit, Simon applied the behaviorism absorbed at Chicago’s interdisciplinary Political Science department to produce a more realistic model.  Administrative Behavior defined modern, large-organization behavior as decentralized decision making performed by middle managers who may not have all the information (or the time and ability to analyze it) required to make "maximizing" decisions.  Furthermore, decision making behavior—within or without the organizational frame—is “determined by the irrational and nonrational elements that bound the area of rationality.” As a result of “bounded rationality,” Simon later elaborated that decision makers opt for “satisficing” behavior—decisions that are “good enough” within allowances and under influences. A byproduct of Simon’s empirical study of organizational behavior was the idea that decision making is a process of achieving mental subgoals that lead to a larger decision.  This process of “making successive choices along a branching path” became the pattern for Simon’s subsequent work in simulating human decision making by computer.  It led to his prediction that thoroughly programmed computers, designed to learn from data and past decisions, would recentralize and rationalize organizational decision making.   

Simon spent three years (1939-1942) as director of the Bureau of Public Administration at the University of California, Berkeley, and seven years (1942-1949) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (1942-1949), where Simon eventually chaired the department of political and social science.  Returning to Chicago offered Simon the opportunity to join the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics.  In its weekly meetings, Simon interacted with the Midwest's leading economists, mathematicians, and early computer scientists – beginning the effort “to see and to be seen” which increased his influence and advancement. Cowles colleague, Bill Cooper, recommended Simon for a position at the new Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he joined the faculty in 1949.  With Cooper, Dean Lee Bach, and Provost Elliott Dunlap Smith, Simon was instrumental in developing a faculty and a curriculum influenced by social science methods, creating “settings in which we could compare the ways decisions were actually made in business firms with the ways that economic theory and textbooks said they were made.”

In 1952, Simon began a 24-year consulting relationship with RAND, the Santa Monica-based “think tank,” where he encountered both digital computing and Allen Newell on his first visit. Newell—who became Simon’s long-time research partner and faculty colleague at Carnegie Tech (later CMU)—shared Simon’s conviction that the human mind was an information-processing system that manipulated symbols to “think,” his apprehension that the digital computer could perform non-numeric symbol recognition, and his realization that a programmed computer could formally mimic the “branching path” of decision making used in problem solving behavior. In January 1956, Simon astonished a Carnegie Tech classroom by announcing that, “Over Christmas, Al Newell and I invented a thinking machine.”  The LT (Logic Theorist) program used heuristic instructions developed by Simon and produced by Newell and RAND programmer J. C. “Cliff” Shaw to adapt the original concept—solving visually-patterned chess problems—to proving propositional calculus theorems in Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica with speed and success. In 1957, the NSS (Newell-Shaw-Simon) chess machine followed – a program designed to replicate human decision making in play rather than to win games.

Simon and Newell play chess
Herb Simon and Allen Newell play chess

Simon and Newell were equally interested in interpreting the LT program as a cognitive theory of problem solving and tested it with empirical evidence—protocols consisting of test subjects thinking aloud about their behaviors in problem-solving tasks. Subjects were clearly using means-end analysis or comparing the task goal with their mental distance from it and noting the actions that could reduce the distance.  The important new observation was introduced into the programming of the GPS (General Problem Solver) in 1957.  The GPS system performed a broad range of tasks, using only one set of mechanisms.  Edward Feigenbaum, then Simon and Newell’s student, noted that the performance precedents in generality set by GPS “commanded the attention of its generation of scientists.” Alongside Simon and Newell, Feigenbaum—now at Stanford—was among the first students who developed the list-processing languages (IPLs or Information Processing Languages) that programmed the LT and GPS. Other students designed programs that used heuristic search to plan industrial productions, and expert systems to diagnose problems and offer solutions in specialized fields.

Simon’s books and publications since Administrative Behavior reflect the range of his research interests and their influence on economic, cognitive, and artificial intelligence studies.  Papers such as “On the Definition of the Causal Relation” (1952) and “Causal Ordering and Identifiability” (1953) offered insights into the breaking down of complex equation systems – cited in the announcement of his 1978 Nobel Prize as “of particular importance” to the economic sciences.  Models of Man (1957) collected papers on causality written for the Cowles Commission with work from his Carnegie and RAND research; “A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice” (first published in 1955) formalized the theory of bounded rationality and introduced the satisficing concept. The New Science of Management Decision (1960) and The Sciences of the Artificial (1969) assessed and predicted the social effects of his research. Human Problem Solving (1972), Simon’s long-deferred co-production with Allen Newell, summarized 30 years of research into cognition and its successful experimental translation to computer programming.  Representation and Meaning (with Laurent Siklóssy, 1972) studied the cognitive import of the discovery that natural language computer systems could avoid semantic ambiguity by consulting combinations of pictures and sentences.

The Association for Computing Machinery’s A. M. Turing award, given jointly to Simon and Allen Newell in 1975, cites their contributions "to the establishment of [artificial intelligence] as an area of scientific endeavor" and "the idea that human cognition can be described in terms of a symbol system." In a press release announcing Simon's Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences lauded him for "scientific output...far beyond the fields in which he has held professorships." Whether in science theory, applied mathematical statistics, operations analysis, economics, or business administration, “Simon has had something of importance to say; and…has developed his ideas to such an extent that it has been possible to use them as a basis for empirical studies.”

Other honors that Dr. Simon has been awarded include: the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions of the American Psychological Association (1969); Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association (1976); the Frederick Mosher Award of the American Society of Public Administration (1974); the Procter Prize of Sigma Xi fraternity (1980); the Dow-Jones & Company Award (1983); the Award for Scholarly Contributions to Management of the Academy of Management (1983); the James Madison Award of the American Political Science Association (1984); the National Medal of Science (1986); the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science (1988); the John von Neumann Theory Prize of ORSA/TIMS (1988); the American Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology (1993); the International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence Award for Research Excellence (1995) and the Dwight Waldo Award of the American Society of Public Administration (1995).  

From 1966 until his death in 2001, Dr. Simon was the Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.  He lived in Pittsburgh with his wife Dorothea (née Pye, d. 2002).  They had three children: Katherine, Peter, and Barbara.


This collection has been arranged in 12 series. The collection includes scientific papers by Simon and others; project reports and research proposals; lecture materials, book and paper drafts, publications and journal article reprints; personal papers and awards; external correspondence, CMU interoffice Memoranda, e-mail, student papers, and research materials.

While the bulk of the collection has been digitized, some material, such as incoming correspondence and computer program print outs, are not available online due to copyright or privacy concerns. In some cases, as noted below, entire series have not been digitized. In other cases, individual documents or sets of documents may not be available online.


Personal Papers, 1909-1979

The Personal Papers series houses papers related to the engineering career of Simon’s father, Arthur; diaries, appointment books, and family documents of Herbert Simon; and security reports on Simon by the FBI and IRS.


Schoolwork and Early Career, 1929-1943

The Schoolwork and Early Career series contains papers pertaining to Simon’s high school education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and to his undergraduate and doctoral work at the University of Chicago.  Drafts of Administrative Behavior—the theses Simon expanded into an influential book—are collected here.  Early organizational studies conducted at Chicago’s International City Managers’ Association and the Bureau of Public Administration at the University of California, Berkeley, are represented.


Illinois Institute of Technology, 1942-1949

The Illinois Institute of Technology Series houses course materials and administrative documents from Simon’s professorship and term as department chair at this Chicago institution. 


RAND Corporation, 1949-1994,

The RAND Corporation series collects technical reports issued during Simon’s years as a consultant as well as correspondence into the 1970s.  The series also contains technical reports, articles, notes, and computer runs for both chess playing research and chess computer programming that extended into Simon’s post-RAND years.


Carnegie Mellon University, 1948-2001

The Carnegie Mellon University series contains course materials related to Simon’s professorships as well as administrative documents important to the development of GSIA organization and curriculum. The series also collects technical reports for the Complex Information Processing program; Simon’s editorial work on university president Richard Cyert’s book The Behavioral Theory of the Firm; a large collection of student theses and dissertations; and research proposals and administrative documents for agencies such as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.


Consulting, 1942-2000

The Consulting series collects technical reports, committee reports, conference documents and correspondence for Simon’s many advisory involvements as a committeeman for the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council, among others.  Simon’s tenure on the President’s Science Advisory Committee, during the Johnson administration and early Nixon years, is also represented.


Lectures and Talks, 1951-2000

The Lectures and Talks series comprise drafts, notes, correspondence, invitations, and other items related to Simon’s lectures at universities, research institutes, and conferences worldwide. 


Publications, 1938-2000

The Publications series contains drafts of three books: Administrative Behavior,An Information Processing Theory of Human Problem Solving, and the autobiography Models of My Life.  Scientific papers, journal articles, and reprints by Simon and others are represented as well as foreign translations of Simon’s works and correspondence with two of his publishers.  


Correspondence, 1940-2001

The Correspondence series collects Simon’s correspondence with some of the world’s leading figures in economics, political science, computer science, artificial intelligence, and cognitive psychology.


Awards, 1958-1998

The Awards series holds plaques, certificates, presented items, and other tributes to Simon’s achievements and celebrity.  Articles, reports, correspondence, and photographs documenting Simon’s 1978 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences are included. 


Miscellaneous, 1951-2000

The Miscellaneous series is comprised of various items and papers from Dr. Simon’s home office.



The following series has not been digitized, but is available for in-person research:


Student Dissertations, 1985-2001

The Student Dissertations series consists of student papers that Dr. Simon kept in his offices.  Most of these papers are graduate dissertations with some undergraduate papers among them.


Accessing the Collection

The Herb Simon Papers are located at the Carnegie Mellon University Archives. Contact the archives to schedule an appointment.

Finding Aid

A partial guide to the physical collection is available online. This guide includes information about material not included in the digital collection.

Related Materials

Researchers may also be interested in the Allen Newell Papers.


1929 - 2001


Copyright for the collection has been transferred to Carnegie Mellon University. The collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.


This collection was digitized with support from the Simon family.