Statistical Science

The Golden Age of Statistical Graphics

Michael Friendly

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Statistical graphics and data visualization have long histories, but their modern forms began only in the early 1800s. Between roughly 1850 and 1900 (±10), an explosive growth occurred in both the general use of graphic methods and the range of topics to which they were applied. Innovations were prodigious and some of the most exquisite graphics ever produced appeared, resulting in what may be called the “Golden Age of Statistical Graphics.”

In this article I trace the origins of this period in terms of the infrastructure required to produce this explosive growth: recognition of the importance of systematic data collection by the state; the rise of statistical theory and statistical thinking; enabling developments of technology; and inventions of novel methods to portray statistical data. To illustrate, I describe some specific contributions that give rise to the appellation “Golden Age.”

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Statist. Sci. Volume 23, Number 4 (2008), 502-535.

First available in Project Euclid: 11 May 2009

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Data visualization history of statistics smoothing thematic cartography Francis Galton Charles Joseph Minard Florence Nightingale Francis Walker


Friendly, Michael. The Golden Age of Statistical Graphics. Statist. Sci. 23 (2008), no. 4, 502--535. doi:10.1214/08-STS268.

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