William W. Cooper is one of the founding figures of management science (MS), also known as operations research (OR) and decision science. He was a professor of OR, economics, and accounting with a career that spanned over 60 years.
William Cooper was born on July 23, 1914 in Alabama, and moved to Chicago at the age of 3. His father owned a series of successful gas stations but lost them after the United States stock market crashed in 1929. Amid the financial struggle, his father’s health deteriorated, and Cooper quit high school after his sophomore year to find work. As a young man, Cooper worked setting pins at bowling alleys, caddying at golf courses, and even boxing professionally. He earned 35 dollars for 9 minutes in the ring and won 58 of his 63 bouts (two were draws).
In 1932, Cooper turned away from his life as a boxer. While hitchhiking to the Sunset Ridge Golf Course in Chicago, he met Eric L. Kohler, a professor at Northwestern University and a member of the Accounting Hall of Fame. Kohler soon became Cooper’s mentor and they remained friends until Kohler’s death in 1976.
Although Cooper would never finish high school, Kohler pushed him to continue his education. He received a college education thanks to the University of Chicago's Student at Large Program and Kohler's financial help. Cooper had an aptitude for learning and was accepted to the University of Chicago after some time as a non-degree student, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with an A.B. in economics in 1938.
Cooper obtained his first accounting job while still a student at the university. Kohler was working as a consultant for Arthur Anderson & Co. at the time, and he hired Cooper as a temporary assistant. While working on a patent infringement lawsuit, Cooper discovered errors in the defendant's computations, which ultimately contributed to the case's success. Kohler recognized Cooper's potential and recruited him on a part-time basis. When he left Arthur Anderson in 1938 to become Comptroller of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Kohler asked Cooper to join him and quickly promoted him to TVA's internal auditing director.
In 1940, Cooper left the TVA to pursue a graduate degree at Columbia University, which had awarded him one of two fellowships given to graduate students. However, Cooper never received his doctorate since the committee overseeing his thesis insisted that he make revisions, but he ultimately refused.
When the U.S. entered WWII in 1942, Cooper left Columbia for Washington to work for the Bureau of Budget (BOB), now the Office of Management and Budget. He served as the Principal Economist there until 1944. In 1945, he married Ruth Fay West, and the two remained together for over fifty years until Ruth’s passing in 2000.
Cooper opted not to return to Columbia after the war and accepted a position teaching economics at the University of Chicago instead; however, his stay there was brief. By 1946, George Leland Bach of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT), now Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), offered him a position in the school’s new economics department, which he accepted.
Between 1946 and 1968, Cooper served as a professor in the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA, now known as the Tepper School of Business. He was one of the founding faculty members at GSIA, working alongside Dean George Leland Bach and Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon. Cooper oversaw the school's operations research, focusing on the practical application of management science theory.
Cooper and his GSIA colleagues transformed university business and management education with their students taking courses in mathematics and the humanities. Other universities quickly adopted the GSIA method. In 1968, Cooper left GSIA to become the first dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs (SUPA), now the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. He served as dean for seven years, stepping down in 1975.
During his early years at CIT, Cooper developed a research and writing partnership with Abraham Charnes. Together, they made landmark contributions to management science, including Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) and Chance Constrained Programming. They also conducted military research, most notably for the Office of Naval Research. Charnes and Cooper wrote nearly 200 papers and dozens of chapters and reports between 1949 and 1992
Cooper moved to Cambridge, MA after leaving his deanship at SUPA, where he assisted in the development of doctoral programs at Harvard University's Graduate School of Business. He applied many of the same analytical tools that he and his colleagues pioneered at GSIA there. He taught accounting and management classes, emphasizing the value of quantitative methods. Cooper remained at Harvard until he reached the customary retirement age for business school professors in 1980.
In addition to Cooper’s teaching activities, he worked as a consultant for numerous organizations and he served on the editorial board of many professional journals. He was one of the founding members of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) and he was the first editor for the American Accounting Association’s professional journal.
Cooper moved south after leaving Harvard, to the University of Texas at Austin, where he continued to teach and write for another 31 years. He was a professor emeritus there until his death on June 20, 2012, at the age of 97.
The William Cooper collection has been substantially digitized and made available online for research use. While much of the collection has been digitized, some material has been restricted due to copyright and privacy concerns. These materials are available for in-person research in the University Archives. Examples of un-digitized materials include papers written by others, correspondence addressed to Cooper, photographs, and ephemera.
The William W. Cooper Collection is comprised of 11 series – biographical information, publications, professional files, conferences and lectures, professional societies, academic files, correspondence, personal materials, photographs, and reference files. There is also a series designated for reports produced by the Center for Cybernetic Studies (CCS), most of which were not authored or co-authored by Cooper.
The collection documents William Cooper's long and varied career, including his prolific research and writings. It contains practically all of Cooper's articles as well as information on his research and writing methods. Materials relating to his teaching activities, consulting contracts, and membership in professional societies are also included in the collection. Notable items include Cooper’s graduate thesis and the seminal Data Envelopment Analysis article “Measuring the Efficiency of Decision Making Units.” Materials related to post-World War II accounting theories and early breakthroughs in management science and operations research are particularly abundant in the collection. It also offers important information about Carnegie Mellon University's history, particularly the Graduate School of Industrial Administration and the School of Urban and Public Affairs. Cooper's time at the University of Chicago and the Tennessee Valley Authority are only mentioned briefly.
The Biographical Information series contains contextual and biographical materials on William Cooper, consisting of correspondence, speeches, awards, honors, biographies, and articles. Often these materials contain information on the history of Carnegie Mellon University, specifically the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA) and the School of Urban and Public Affairs (SUPA). The materials also contain information on Cooper’s role in founding the field of management science.
The Publications series contains Cooper’s published and unpublished papers, articles, book chapters, reprints, and drafts of works that he authored or co-authored. Cooper was a prolific writer who wrote twenty books and over 500 articles,covering a wide range of topics such as accounting, economics, operations research, and management science. In addition to articles and papers, the series contains supporting materials such as correspondence, drafts, notes, and original data.
CCS Research Reports
The CCS Research Reports series contains the research reports produced by the Center for Cybernetic Studies (CCS) at the University of Texas at Austin. William Cooper’s colleague and frequent co-author, Abraham Charnes, founded the Center for Cybernetic Studies, which produced technical reports and working papers on topics in management science and related fields. CCS also conducted research for the Army, Navy, and branches of state and local governments. Some of the reports were co-authored by Charnes and Cooper, but a majority of them were produced by other scholars. CCS designated each report with a title and a consecutive number, ranging from 1 to 825.
The Professional Files series contains materials relating to William Cooper’s professional life outside of academia. The series consists of correspondence, reports, memorabilia, leaflets, clippings, and notes. It also includes information on Cooper's consulting contracts, military research, and grant proposals.
Conferences and Lectures
The Conferences and Lectures series contains papers and correspondence from the numerous conferences and workshops that William Cooper attended throughout his career. It also includes some of Cooper's talks and presentations.
The Professional Societies series contains materials relating to William Cooper’s activities in various professional societies and journals. Throughout his career, Cooper was a member of numerous organizations and served as an editor or associate editor for many professional publications.
The Academic Files series contains William Cooper's academic papers and records. The materials span the course of his entire academic career and contain information on Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Harvard University, and The University of Texas at Austin. The series consists of teaching materials, correspondence, and student information. It also includes his students' research materials, theses, and dissertations.
The Correspondence series contains the correspondence of William Cooper. It consists of letters, emails, notes, recommendations, and other related materials. The contents of the correspondence range from research advice to Cooper's history. In some letters, Cooper addresses subjects in management science such as Data Envelopment Analysis. Many of the files contain also biographical materials on the recipient. These materials include vitas, papers, clippings, and articles.
The following series have not been digitized but are available for in-person research. More details about their contents are available in the finding aid:
The Personal Files series consists of Cooper’s personal papers and materials. It contains his address book, passports, health and finance information, and glasses. It is important to note that some of the items in this series are fragile.
The Photographs series contains all of the photographs from the collection. In order to retain context, wherever a photograph was taken from the collection, a paper reading "item removed" with instructions on where to find it has been placed in the folder. The series consists of black and white prints, color prints, digital print-outs on copy paper, and one set of negatives. VIPs include Herbert A. Simon, Yuji Ijiri, and Eric L. Kohler. It also includes images of Cooper's family.
The Reference Files series contains the research files of William Cooper, which include topics such as chance constrained programming, goal programming, and the Bell System. The series consists of notes, papers, reports, articles, books, and journals. Throughout many of the articles and books, Cooper made numerous comments in the margins. These files were minimally processed with folder titles taken directly from Cooper’s own folder labels, except in cases where the title was ambiguous or too vague.
Accessing the Collection
The William Cooper Papers are available for research in the Carnegie Mellon University Archives. Contact the archives to schedule an appointment.
A guide to the physical collection is available online. This guide includes information about material not included in the digital collection.
1960 - 1990
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 Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College.