Isard graduated with honors at the age of 20 from Temple University. He next went to Harvard University, studying under Alvin Hansen and Abbott Usher, who stimulated his interest in location theory. Isard left Harvard in 1941 without taking a degree, moving instead to the University of Chicago, where he studied under Frank H. Knight, Oscar Lange, and Jacob Viner. In 1942, Isard obtained a position with the National Resources Planning Board, in Washington, D.C., while completing his dissertation on building cycles and transportation development. A Quaker, he obtained conscientious objector status during the war, and en lieu of military service he served as an orderly in a state mental hospital. It was during this period that he translated into English the works of some of the principal German location theorists. Now focusing primarily on location issues, Isard obtained a part-time teaching position at Harvard in 1945, and did some work on the location of the U.S. steel industry, as well as some work on the costs and benefits of atomic power.