Memorial Resolution: Herbert Solomon



(1919-2004)Herbert Solomon, Professor of Statistics, emeritus, was born in New York City on March 13, 1919, and died at Stanford on Sept. 20, 2004, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Awarded Stanford's first Ph.D. in Statistics in 1950, he returned as a Visiting Professor in 1958-59, became Professor of Statistics in 1959, and served as Chair from 1959 to 1964 and again from 1985 to 1988. As Kenneth Arrow, Nobel laureate in Economics, put it, "His outstanding chairmanship of the Statistics Department served to consolidate its leading position in the field, which it has retained."

His students saw him as a special kind of teacher. In the words of Edward George, now a professor at the Wharton School, "I was instantly mesmerized, not just by the material, but by his magnetic personality: full of enthusiasm, curiosity and, especially, good humor." His faculty colleagues appreciated his warmth, generosity, zest for life, and his legendary ability as a raconteur.

Solomon's sense of humor reflected a lively and penetrating intelligence. He made major contributions in many arenas, partly because he liked to apply statistical thinking to practical problems. Some early work was on quality control, based on the new approach of sequential sampling. He also did important work in geometric probability, in which the random quantities are geometrical figures rather than numbers. His elegant research produced an effective theory, which had direct application to bombing patterns during World War II. Other areas have found useful applications for his research, including the study of small group processes and the field of jurimetrics, in which he determined the optimal size of juries. With respect to national defense, his work on clustering procedures provided a mathematical model for personnel assignments in the military, as well as for determining the combat-readiness of ships.

His research was honored in many ways. He was Fellow (1955) and President (1964-65) of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics; President (1966), Operations Research Society-West; Fellow (1954) of the American Statistical Association and recipient of its S.S. Wilks Medal (1975); the Townsend Harris Medal (1977) for distinguished alumni from the City College of New York; Guggenheim Fellow (1958-59) Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (1981-82); and, while serving as Chief Scientist for the London branch of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Navy Department's highest honor, the Distinguished Public Service Award (1979).

Solomon's early training came as a math major at CCNY, where there was one course in mathematical statistics. There were also courses in applied statistics not associated with any department. Some of his fellow-students at CCNY (1936-40) were Kenneth Arrow, Herman Chernoff and Milton Sobel, who later made their mark in economics and statistics. He often expressed his gratitude to the City of New York for making it possible for a poor boy to get a fine education at almost no cost.

His graduate studies began at Columbia University, thanks to an uncle who lent him $400 to pay for a year's tuition. At Columbia, Solomon took courses from distinguished statisticians and mathematicians, including Harold Hotelling, B.O. Koopman, and Abraham Wald, and wrote his master's thesis with Koopman in that single year (1941). After short stints of work with the Army Quartermaster Corps and radio instruction for the Army Air Forces, Hotelling helped him to join the Mathematical Research Group at Columbia in 1943, from which he was transferred to the Statistical Research Group in 1944. These organizations were devoted to solving mathematical and statistical problems of the military, which were filtered through the Applied Mathematics Panel of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Dr. Mina Rees, with whom Solomon worked later, was a major figure on that panel.

The Statistical Research Group, led by W. Allen Wallis, contained many of the future leaders of the field for the next 40 years: Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Edward Paulson, Abraham Girshick, Kenneth Arnold, Albert Bowker, Leonard J. Savage, Jacob Wolfowitz, and, of course, Hotelling and Wald. Among the Group's practical achievements was the development of the new approach of sequential analysis, which revolutionized statistical quality control and acceptance sampling. Solomon was involved in this activity, as well as in military research to improve aiming at a moving target and the analysis of data from height finders and range finders.

At the end of World War II Solomon resumed his studies at Columbia, but he discontinued them to work for the Operations Analysis Group of the Army and to teach mathematics at City College. In early 1947 he moved to Stanford to help Albert Bowker, with the encouragement of Fred Terman, to develop a program in statistics. Financial support from the federal government for this new program was partially a product of official desire that research on sequential analysis be continued in order to improve quality standards. This stay at Stanford was short; Solomon returned to the East, ending up in the newly formed Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The Naval Distinguished Public Service Award was for his later service while at Stanford and not a Navy employee. Yet, his whole career was positively shaped by a series of experiences with ONR (1948-52) after his service in World War II. Mina Rees headed the Mathematics branch of ONR, and she helped him to become head of the Statistics and Probability branch of ONR when it was formed. When named head of this branch, Solomon was a graduate student at Stanford. Other military agencies joined ONR in creating and funding the Joint Services Advisory Committee in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. Solomon was also named head of this group.

Neither the National Science Foundation nor the National Institutes of Health was yet established, and ONR in these years took on a unique function in the federal government: the support of basic research in colleges and universities. Solomon was able to support the establishment of centers for basic research programs in statistics and probability at a number of American universities, one of which was Stanford.

In 1952 Solomon joined Teachers College of Columbia University in anticipation of the retirement of Professor Helen Walker, a first-rate educational statistician. He had close ties to the Department of Mathematical Statistics and helped organize a research group on Mathematical Models in the Social Sciences, supported by ONR. His research on educational issues included the design and analysis of tests of intelligence and other abilities. Another problem area of interest to the military, as well as to educators, was modeling how a group of individuals cooperate to solve a problem.

After his return to Stanford as a Professor, he contributed to the University in numerous ways. His research brought large government grants to Statistics, and he used the money primarily to support graduate students and their dissertations. He also supported visiting faculty, which resulted in diverse seminars and broad research activities. To the students, he was, "Big Daddy." When he had basement space constructed to provide offices for students writing their theses, the area was known as, "King Solomon's Minds."

He made two major, though unsung, contributions for faculty colleagues. First, although personally very patriotic, he was one of only two department chairmen who, in 1963-64, successfully resisted the introduction of "patriotism" as a criterion in long-term faculty appointments at Stanford. In addition, because of his close ties to many federal officials, he went with Controller Kenneth Creighton as Stanford representatives to voice opposition to the application of intrusive rules on "effort-reporting" to faculty throughout the nation who received federal grants. The harsh proposed rules were appreciably softened by their efforts. In a 1967 article about bureaucratic regulation of research, he noted his own history as both grantor and recipient of government grants. From that dual background, he felt that federal agencies tended to get overbearing in their attitude toward universities, and that universities made the situation worse by their spineless acceptance of restrictive rules.

A religious Jew, Solomon was a founding member of the Kol Emeth synagogue in Palo Alto, as well as Bnai Brith. He worked with the first director to develop Hillel for Jewish students at Stanford, and he served on the faculty committee on religious practices.

Finally, and most important to him, Solomon was devoted to his beloved Lottie, violinist and choir director; their lawyer children, Mark and Jed; their four grandchildren; and brothers Seymour and Henry. Their oldest child, Naomi, with whom they were very close, died in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack, a raw wound in his last years. For him, family always came first.


Sanford M. Dornbusch, chair

Theodore W. Anderson

Bradley Efron

Ingram Olkin