Biography and History

Alfred J. Lotka (1880-1949), a statistician for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was a significant contributor to the field of demography. He was a pioneer in the study of population dynamics and conducted research on the mathematical theory of evolution and the mathematical analysis of populations. In addition to his work on demography, he published in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematical social sciences such as economics.

Alfred James Lotka was born on March 2, 1880 in Lemberg, Austria (now Lviv, Ukraine) to Jacques and Marie Doebely Lotka, both American citizens. He married Romola Beattie on January 5, 1935. Lotka's early education was in France, Germany, and England. He began study at Birmingham University, England in 1898 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1901. He then spent a year studying chemistry at Leipzig University from 1901 to 1902. During this period, he developed his interest in the mathematical theory of evolution, which would be the foundation for his life's work.

Lotka came to the United States in 1902, where he worked as an assistant chemist at the General Chemical Company in New York until 1908. While there, he published his first papers on the mathematical theory of evolution and on population analysis. He entered Cornell University as a graduate student and assistant in physics in 1908 and received his M.A. degree in 1909.

Following his education at Cornell University, Lotka worked as an examiner at the United States Patent Office (1909), assistant physicist at the United States Bureau of Standards (1909-1911), and as an editor of the Scientific American Supplement (1911-1914). He received his Doctor of Science degree from Birmingham University in 1912. Lotka then returned to General Chemical Company, where he worked as a chemist from 1914 to 1919. While he held these various positions, Lotka continued his investigations into the mathematical theory of evolution. From 1922 to 1924, he accepted a temporary research appointment in Raymond Pearl's Human Biology group at Johns Hopkins University to focus on his studies. The result of his work was the publication Elements of Physical Biology (1925).

In 1924, Lotka began his employment at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York City, where he would stay until he retired in 1947. He was the supervisor of mathematical research in the Statistical Bureau (1924-1933), a general supervisor (1933-1934), and an assistant statistician (1934-1947). While there, he also continued to develop the demographic analysis he had started during his undergraduate education. His book Theorie Analytique des Associations Biologiques, published in two parts in 1934 and 1939 in Paris, summarized the essentials of his work on the mathematical theory of evolution and on the mathematics of population analysis.

Lotka was active in many professional organizations, serving as President of the Population Association of America (1938-1939), Vice President (1938-1939) and President (1942) of the American Statistical Association, Vice President of the International Union for the Scientific Investigation of Population Problems (1948-1949), and Chairman of the United States National Committee of the Union (1948-1949). He was a fellow of the American Public Health Association, the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and was a member of many learned societies.

Throughout his career, Lotka wrote more than one hundred scientific papers, published in academic and technical journals as well as popular magazines, in the United States and abroad. His writings encompassed a wide variety of subjects, including mathematical analyses of population and the theory of evolution, actuarial mathematics applied to problems of population and industrial replacement, theoretical and applied demography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and other mathematical social sciences such as economics. In addition to the books Elements of Physical Biology and Theorie Analytique des Associations Biologiques, which together summarize the essentials of his research, Lotka was the co-author of three books in the field of public health: The Money Value of a Man (1930), Length of Life (1936), and Twenty-five Years of Health Progress (1937). All three were co-written with Louis I. Dublin, Vice President and Statistician at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

During his retirement, Lotka revised and translated portions of Theorie Analytique des Associations Biologiques into English. He died on December 5, 1949 in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Source: From the finding aid for MC032

  • Alfred J. Lotka Papers. 1881-1966 (inclusive), 1925-1950 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC032

    Alfred J. Lotka (1880-1949), a statistician for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was a significant contributor to the field of demography. He was a pioneer in the study of population dynamics and conducted research on the mathematical theory of evolution and the mathematical analysis of populations. Lotka's papers document his scholarship and his involvement in professional organizations and include drafts of his works, his notes and research materials, and correspondence.

  • Alfred J. Lotka Papers. 1881-1966 (inclusive), 1925-1950 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC032

    Alfred J. Lotka (1880-1949), a statistician for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was a significant contributor to the field of demography. He was a pioneer in the study of population dynamics and conducted research on the mathematical theory of evolution and the mathematical analysis of populations. Lotka's papers document his scholarship and his involvement in professional organizations and include drafts of his works, his notes and research materials, and correspondence.