Ralph Gomory was born May 7, 1929, in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He graduated from Williams College in 1950, studied at Cambridge University, and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University in 1954. Gomory then served in the Navy (1954-57) and then was a Higgins Lecturer and Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Princeton before joining IBM's newly formed Research Division in 1959 as a research mathematician.
In his student and graduate student years (Williams, Cambridge, Princeton), Gomory did research on nonlinear differential equations, but his years in the Navy turned his attention to the applied mathematics of operations research. Back at Princeton he obtained the first general cutting-plane algorithms, which established the field of integer programming. It remains an active area of research today.
At IBM Research in the early 1960's, Gomory published papers with Paul Gilmore on the knapsack, traveling salesman and cutting-stock problems, and with T. C. Hu on flows in multi-terminal networks and continua. In the late 1960's, he developed the asymptotic theory of integer programming and introduced the concept of corner polyhedra. In the early 1970's, he collaborated with Ellis Johnson in investigating subadditive functions related to corner polyhedra that could also play a role in producing cutting-planes.
Gomory served as Chairman of IBM Research's Mathematical Sciences Department from 1965-67 and 1968-70 during an important period of its growth and evolution. This period saw the beginning of Samuel Winograd's work on limits of algorithms and of Benoit Mandelbrot's work on fractals.
Gomory became Director of Research for IBM in 1970, with line responsibility for IBM's Research Division. During his 18 years as Director of Research the Research Division made a wide range of contributions to IBM's products, to the computer industry, and to science. The Zurich Research Laboratory did the work that resulted in two successive Nobel Prizes in physics, Yorktown Heights Research was the birthplace of what is now known as RISC architecture, and San Jose was the birthplace of the concept, theory and first prototype of relational databases.
Gomory, who had become the IBM Senior Vice President for Science and Technology retired from IBM in 1989 and became President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During his tenure as President he led the foundation into a long list of fields relevant to major national issues. The foundation pioneered in the field of on-line learning supporting this work before there was even a public Internet, and then supported its growth to more than three million people taking courses for credit. They started the now widespread program of industry studies, and engaged a major program advocating a more flexible workplace. The foundation developed a novel and successful approach to the problem of producing minority PhD’s in scientific and technical fields. The foundation was early in perceiving the threat of bioterrorism and was active in that area for years before the events of 9/11. On the scientific side the foundation supported the widely recognized Sloan Sky Survey, which has made major contributions to the problem of dark energy and initiated a major worldwide effort to survey life in the oceans known as the Census of Marine Life. In December 2007, after 18 years as President, Gomory retired from the foundation and became a Research Professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.
Gomory has served in many capacities in academic, industrial and governmental organizations. He was a Trustee of Hampshire College from 1977-1986 and of Princeton University from 1985-1989. He served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) from 1984 to 1992, and again from 2001 to 2009. He served for a number of terms on the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP). He has recently joined STEP, the Board on Science Technology and Economic Policy of the National Academies.
Gomory has been a director of a number of companies including the Washington Post Company and the Bank of New York. He is currently a director of Lexmark International, Inc., and a small start-up company. He was named one of America’s ten best directors by Director’s Alert magazine in 2000.
Gomory has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Philosophical Society. He was subsequently elected to the Councils of all three societies. He has been awarded eight honorary degrees and many prizes including the Lanchester Prize in 1963, the Harry Goode Memorial Award of the American Federation of Information Processing Societies in 1984, the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1984, the Medal of the Industrial Research Society in 1985, the IEEE Engineering Leadership Recognition Award in 1988, the National Medal of Science awarded by the President in 1988, the Arthur M. Bueche Award of the National Academy of Engineering in 1993, the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment in 1998, the Madison Medal Award of Princeton University in 1999, the Sheffield Fellowship Award of the Yale University Faculty of Engineering in 2000, the International Federation of Operational Research Societies’ Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Harold Larnder Prize of the Canadian Operational Research Society in 2006.
While continuing his research on integer programming Gomory has written on the nature of technology development, research in industry, and industrial competitiveness, and on models of international trade involving changing technologies and economies of scale. He is the author, with Professor William Baumol, of the book Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests (MIT Press 2001).