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HUG 4517

Leontief, Wassily, 1906-1999. Wassily Leontief personal archive, 1928-2001: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUG 4517
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Leontief, Wassily, 1906-1999
Title: Wassily Leontief personal archive
Date(s): 1928-2001 and undated
Quantity: 114 cubic feet (333 document boxes, 3 portfolio folders, 2 flat boxes, 2 media containers)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Wassily Wassilyevich Leontief (1905-1999) was an American economist of Russian descent. He won the Nobel Prize in 1973. For over twenty years, he was the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. The Wassily Leontief personal archive documents Leontief's academic and professional activity from 1928 to 2001. The material is pertinent to the history of economics, especially the application of the input-output method of economic analysis and the integration of economic theory and statistical methods in mainstream economic science.

Acquisition information:

The Wassily Leontief personal archive was acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation. Acquisitions from the early 1970s were classified and described in the Harvard University shelflist prior to 1981. After leaving Harvard in 1975, Leontief periodically sent additional papers to the Archives. These acquisitions are as follows:
  • Accession number: 11196; 1987 August 17
  • Accession number: 11228; 1987 September 21
  • Accession number: 12255; 1991 August 6
  • Accession number: 12654; 1993 April 1
  • Accession number: 13416; 1996 September 11
  • Accession number: 13712; 1998 January 26
  • Accession number: 13920; 1999 March 16
  • Researcher Access:

    The Wassily Leontief personal archive is open for research use with the following exceptions:
    Access to Harvard University administrative records in this collection is restricted for 50 years. These records include correspondence between Harvard departments, staff and administrators; department records and committee records, including budgets, meeting minutes, notes, and planning documents; and financial and budget records (excluding salary information, which is restricted for 80 years).
    Student and personnel records are closed to research use for 80 years. This restriction covers records that include grades, student papers, applications, records related to academic advising, letters of recommendation, appointments and scholarships, and that document employment.
    Restricted records appear throughout the collection; restrictions are noted at the folder level.
    Restricted materials are housed in the following boxes:
    Wassily Leontief personal archive, Part I (material received prior to 1981)
  • Boxes 96-135
  • Wassily Leontief personal archive, Part II (material received 1987-1999)
  • Boxes 161-162; Accession number: 11196
  • Boxes 184-187; Accession number: 11228
  • Boxes 223-227; Accession number: 12255
  • Boxes 250-255; Accession number: 12654
  • Boxes 280-281; Accession number: 13416
  • Boxes 323-328; Accession number: 13712
  • Boxes 339-340; Accession number: 13920
  • Restrictions on use:

    Use restrictions are noted in the folder lists.

    Preferred Citation:

    Leontief, Wassily, 1906-1999. Wassily Leontief personal archive, 1928-2001 and undated. HUG 4517, Harvard University Archives.

    Related material

    In the Harvard University Archives
    In the Leontief Centre, St. Petersburg, Russia

    Biographical / Historical

    Wassily Wassilyevich Leontief (1905-1999) was the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University from 1953 to 1975. Leontief won the Nobel Committee's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1973 "for the development of the input-output method and for its application to important economic problems." Leontief's principal fields of interest were pure theory and empirical quantitative analysis; his major contribution to economics was his input-output method of analysis which measures how changes in one economic sector may have an effect on other sectors. The input-output method's greatest value is as a planning device for both private firms and governments to anticipate demand for goods and services and to predict the ripple effects among various sectors of the economy.
    Born in Munich, Germany, in 1905 to Russian parents, Leontief spent his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia. Leontief received his degree of Learned Economist from the University of Leningrad in 1925. After studying at the University of Berlin (PhD 1928), Leontief accepted a position as research economist at the Institute of World Economics at the University of Kiel (1927-1928), studying the effects of supply and demand curves on the steel industry. It was in Germany that Leontief began examining the need for a dynamic model of general equilibrium to explain the behavior of supply, demand, and prices in a whole economy. In 1929 Leontief went to China, where he worked as an economic advisor to the Ministry of Railways. He moved to the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York in 1931 and to the Department of Economics at Harvard University in 1932. During World War II while teaching full-time at Harvard, Leontief served as a consultant to the United States Department of Labor, where he applied his input-output system of analysis to problems created by the impending shift from a war to a peacetime economy; and as Chief of the Russian Economics Subdivision of the Office of Strategic Services where he produced reports regarding the Soviet Union as a cooperative ally during the war and assessments of the Soviet international position in the postwar period.
    At Harvard, Leontief's research focused on developing a general equilibrium theory capable of understanding the structure and operation of economic systems. Leontief held that economics was an empirical and applied science and that academic theories, although sometimes useful, needed to be supported by sound statistical data. In 1932, Leontief compiled the first input-output tables of the American economy for the years 1919 and 1929. In 1936, he published his first input-output paper demonstrating the importance of input-output economic analysis; and in 1941 published his first major book demonstrating his general equilibrium theory, The Structure of American Economy, 1919-1929: An Empirical Application of Equilibrium Analysis. Continuing his work on the development of input-output theory and its applications to economic problems, Leontief received several promotions, and became a Professor of Economics in 1946. In 1948 Leontief founded the Harvard Economic Research Project on the structure of the American Economy, serving as its director until 1973. The Project was dedicated to input-output research.
    Leontief played a critical role in the application of quantitative methods to economic theory and practice after World War II. Using newly emerging computer technology, Leontief applied his input-output method to the exploration of the economic impact of defense cuts, the cost of pollution abatement, and the effects of trade liberalization on the economy. Leontief input-output models were used to study the environmental implications of promoting the development of less developed countries, the relationships of interindustry transactions, and world income inequality. Moreover, Leontief explored the possibility of using input-output analysis as a means of enabling more efficient national economic planning. Of particular interest to economists was the Leontief Paradox in which Leontief demonstrated that United States imports were more capital intensive than United States exports, a contradiction of contemporary economic orthodoxy, and which initiated a reappraisal of trade theory and econometric techniques among economists. Leontief's input-output method became a major field of economic research. International conferences were held on the subject, bibliographic references on input-output research were compiled, textbooks on input-output analysis were published, and at least fifty countries adopted the use of input-output tables to administer national economic activity, including the United States, the Soviet Union, the Common Market countries, and Japan.
    In 1975, Leontief left Harvard to become a Professor of Economics at New York University, where he founded the Institute for Economic Analysis, serving as its director until 1985. The Institute was dedicated to research in input-output analysis. In 1983, Leontief was named a university professor and two years later appointed a senior scholar. At New York University, Leontief continued work on improving his input-output method applying it to examinations of various problems including the impact of automation on workers, the influence of capital and labor upon the selection of alternative technologies, and the social and economic implications of military spending. The relationship of environmental disruption and economic growth and the effect of modernization on income distribution were also investigated.
    In the late 1980s and first half of the 1990s, Leontief became more involved in Soviet Russian affairs lending assistance to economists, engineers, managers, businessmen, and ordinary citizens during Russia's transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. Leontief was active in maintaining and developing scientific and cultural exchanges and cooperation between the United States and Soviet Russia. Moreover, many academic and other organizations in the United States, Europe, and Japan, concerned with their work in Soviet Russia sought his advice. Through numerous interviews published in Russian journals and newspapers, and at meetings with political and economic leaders, Leontief became widely known on matters related to economic reform in Soviet Russia, including the introduction of input-output methodologies for the development of transition mechanisms needed to restructure the Soviet economy. In 1991, the International Centre for Economic and Social Research, Leontief Centre, was established in St. Petersburg, Russia, to guide regional and local authorities and support market reforms in Russia.
    Leontief received many prestigious awards throughout his career including the Bernhard-Harms Prize from the Institute of World Economics at the University of Kiel (1970). Additionally, Leontief was a member of several professional societies including the Econometric Society (President, 1950), the American Economic Association (President, 1970), and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (President, 1976). A prolific writer, Leontief was the author or co-author of more than 200 economic papers.
    Leontief married Estelle Helena Marks in 1932. The couple had one daughter: Svetlana Leontief Alpers (born 1936). Leontief died on February 5, 1999.

    Footnote on Leontief's birthdate

    Most of the biographical sources on Leontief give his year of birth as 1906, however, in 2006 a new possible date was uncovered. (Pavlova, Natal'ia Iu. and Svetlana A. Kaliadina, translated and annotated by Claus Wittich "The Family of W. W. Leontief in Russia" Economic Systems Research Vol. 18, Iss. 4, 2006). This source indicates that Leontief was born in 1905 in Munich, Germany rather than in 1906 in St. Petersburg. The confusion surrounding his birthdate stems from the fact that although his birth was registered in Munich, Germany in 1905 where he was born, when his parents returned to St. Petersburg the following year they registered the birth a second time (with the Orthodox Church as all births were then registered) as having taken place in 1906 in St. Petersburg. Though Leontief might well have known the true date early on in his life, the fiction of 1906, St. Petersburg was maintained on all necessary documents from then on until the 1940s when Leontief claimed that he had recently learned the true 1905 birth date from his parents. Since the 1906 date had been accepted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, government agencies concerned with security clearances, and had been used on his United States passport, Leontief continued to indicate 1906 as his birthdate to avoid confusion. Leontief's daughter, Svetlana Alpers has reported that it was on the occasion of his 90th birthday, in 1995 (rather than 1996) that Leontief broke the news of his true birthdate to his immediate family.

    Sources for Leontief Biography

    Organization of the collection

    The Wassily Leontief personal archive is described in two parts

    Scope and Contents

    The Wassily Leontief personal archive documents the academic and professional career of Wassily Leontief as a teacher, writer, consultant, researcher, and entrepreneur from 1928 to 2001. The collection is organized into two sections. The first section consists of Leontief papers acquired by the Harvard University Archives prior to 1981. The second section consists of seven accessions acquired from 1987 to 1999. Each accession has been maintained as received and is described separately.
    Leontief was a prolific researcher, correspondent, and author, and thus much of the collection consists of correspondence, published and unpublished manuscripts, lectures, and course materials produced during his career. The collection is a valuable resource for economic research, particularly in the use of the input-output method of economic analysis in academia, private business, and governmental organizations in the United States and abroad in the second half of the twentieth century. The collection also illustrates the changing nature of the work of economists, particularly after World War II, in which the integration of economic theory and statistical methods came to dominate mainstream economic science.

    Leontief papers received in the Harvard University Archives prior to 1981

    This section is organized in seven series, as follows.
    The Correspondence Series spans Leontief's career from 1928 to 1975. It consists mainly of professional correspondence with his colleagues in the United States and other countries. The records illustrate the growth of quantitative economics and demonstrate the role Leontief played in devising solutions to intricate problems related to economic analysis including the efficient allocation and utilization of economic resources. The letters in this series document the widespread adoption of Leontief's input-output method of economic analysis in the United States, Japan, France, Holland, and Italy; in socialist countries such as the Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland, Romania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and China; and in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
    Leontief's relationship with the Harvard Economic Research Project (HERP) is chronicled in the correspondence files. Letters include discussions of the purchase of equipment and supplies, the construction of office and research facilities, staff related research projects, and Leontief's participation at conferences. Moreover, Leontief's ongoing interest in the Soviet Union, the communist system, and Eastern Europe is highlighted in Russian Research Center files. Additionally, the De Vegh and Company and Arthur D. Little files, illustrate Leontief's efforts to persuade American businessmen to take a more rational view of the development of the American economy, applying input-output techniques in finding solutions to market and economic problems. There are also files detailing Leontief's presidency of the American Economic Association (1968-1971), his winning the Nobel Prize in Economics Award in 1973, Leontief's participation at conferences, and Leontief's committee work, both at Harvard University and elsewhere.
    The Writings Series documents Leontief's contributions to the field of economics from 1928 to 1973 and includes manuscripts, reports, reprints and other publications. The wide range of topics in economic theory reflects Leontief's interests over many decades, beginning with his work on economic forecasting, including the application of input-output techniques to the solution of economic problems, and later on, focusing more specifically on disarmament, economic growth and planning, and problems related to the economic development in socialist countries, including the Soviet Union.
    Other aspects of Leontief's career can be found in files which form the Teaching Materials Series, most of which contain course outlines, reading lists, and syllabi related to Leontief's Harvard University economic courses (1936-1956). These files chiefly document clerical matters related to the assignment of tutors, the purchase of books, the giving of grades, and the preparation of examinations. Letters, memoranda, and reports in the Fourteenth Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs Series document Leontief's interaction with scholars and public figures meeting together to discuss ways to reduce the danger of armed conflict and enhance global security. Leontief's study of interindustry relations is highlighted in the Input-Output Charts Series which contains tables, graphs, and diagrams presumably created by Leontief in collaboration with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    The General Information by and about Wassily Leontief Series and Correspondence, Manuscript, Research Files, and Teaching Materials Series contain a limited amount of Leontief biographical or personal materials, including historical sketches, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and personal correspondence. Also, photocopies of sketches drawn by Leontief (1944-1973), chiefly of Harvard professors while Leontief was attending doctoral examinations in the Department of Economics are found in the Sketches by Wassily Leontief Series.

    Leontief records acquired from 1987 to 1999

    This section is organized in seven series, as acquired by the Harvard University Archives.
    After leaving Harvard in 1975, Leontief periodically sent additional papers to the Harvard University Archives in installments from 1987 to 1999. The Correspondence series' in these additional papers were primarily arranged by country, organization, and personal name. The files document Leontief's professional relationships with policy makers, diplomats, businessmen, scholars, government officials, and scientists in the United States and abroad including the Soviet Union, Japan, Spain, and Italy; as well as philanthropic foundations, government agencies, corporations, and international organizations, chiefly from 1975 to 2001. Letters, memoranda, reports, meeting minutes, and other records illuminate the actual application of input-output analysis to the solution of practical economic problems in the final decades of twentieth century. Leontief's exchanges with colleagues highlight the many socioeconomic changes occurring in society in the late twentieth century due to advances in technology and globalization, the trend towards neoliberalism, and the increasing social and economic difficulties found in developing countries. The correspondence files also illustrate Leontief's involvement in educational and cultural activities, including his association with the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a school which provides education to young scholars in science, mathematics, and the humanities; and the Tolstoy Foundation, a group involved in the resettlement of Russian refugees, education, and training. In addition, letters, memoranda, and meeting minutes chronicle Leontief's relationship with New York University, particularly at the Institute of Economic Analysis, promoting the use of input-output analysis.
    Working papers and publication materials include Leontief's manuscript drafts, lectures, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and letters-to-the-editor, principally written in the 1980s and 1990s. In some cases, the files include Leontief's correspondence between his editors and publishers. Leontief's writings reveal that he wrote extensively on the effects of technology on employment and income distribution, monetary phenomena, globalization and economic disparities between less developed and highly developed countries, private enterprise in the Soviet Union, and the application of input-output analysis methodology to the solving economic problems.
    Teaching materials including reading lists, syllabi, and outlines for Leontief's Harvard University courses (1953-1975) in input-output analysis, economic theory, and the growth and structure of the American economy are also found in these papers. Most of the teaching material related to Leontief's economic courses at New York University (1975-1999) are administrative in nature, documenting student registration and the assignment of grades. Conference files chiefly document the arrangements made for Leontief's attendance at conferences; some of the files contain the lectures Leontief presented at the meetings. Conference themes illuminate some of the important issues that were of concern to economists, including the political, cultural, and economic issues confronting the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, the impact of technological change on economic and social conditions, the effect of arms spending on economic development, and the use of input-output techniques in economic forecasting and modelling.
    This collection includes material written in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Italian.

    Inventory update

    This document last updated 2018 January 8.

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