The Beginnings of Operational Research
Most disciplines or significant themes within a discipline which have stood the test of time can trace their origins back to an individual or group whose work is spread, if not over a lifetime, then over a significant number of years. Thus positivist sociology is usually taken to begin with the work of Saint-Simon and Comte in the mid-nineteenth century (Keat and Urry, 1982). A few years earlier than this, van Humboldt and Ritter were laying the basis of regional geography (Chisholm, 1975). The start of classical economics is usually associated with the work of Adam Smith (Barber, 1977). Many historians therefore find it difficult to be specific when considering the roots of a particular discipline. This is not the case to the same extent with operational research. It is possible, with reasonable accuracy, to refer to the first use of the term and hence to identify a starting date for the activity carried out under that name. In December 1967, a meeting was held at the Royal Society, London, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the use of the term operational research. The first use of a label is clearly not necessarily equivalent with the introduction of the activity it is applied to, and at the meeting one of the pioneers of OR, E. C. Williams, noted the fact that although the first use of the name occurred in 1937, the activity of operational research predated this use by at least one year.
KeywordsOperational Research Industrial Revolution Research Association Scientific Management Planning Department
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