He was born in New York City. He was the oldest child of Israel Hauptman and Leah Rosenfeld, and of Jewish descent.
Hauptman was interested in science and mathematics from an early age. He studied at
Townsend Harris High School. He graduated from the
City College of New York (1937). He earned an M.A. degree in mathematics from Columbia University in 1939. He married Edith Citrynell on November 10, 1940, and had two daughters.
After World War II, he began working together with Jerome Karle, a physical chemist, at the
Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.. He also enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the
University of Maryland, College Park. They used their mathematics and physical chemistry skills to solve the
phase problem of X-ray crystallography. By 1955, he had received his Ph.D. in mathematics, and they had worked out the direct methods in X-ray crystallography. Their 1953 article, "Solution of the Phase Problem I. The Centrosymmetric Crystal", contained the main ideas, the most important of which was the introduction of probabilistic methods.
In 1970 he joined the
Medical Foundation of Buffalo, becoming its Research Director in 1972. At this time he developed the neighborhood principle and extension concept. These theories were further developed during the following years.
Hauptman who was an atheist, signed with 21 other Nobel laureates the
Humanist Manifesto in 2003.