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History and Origin of Statistics


Statistics, in a sense, is as old as human society itself. Its origin can be traced to the old days when it was regarded as the ‘science of State-craft’ and was the by-product of the administrative activity of the State. The word ‘Statistics’ seems to have been derived from the Latin word ‘status’ or the Italian word ‘statista’ or the German word ‘statistik’ each of which means a ‘political state’. In ancient times, the government used to collect information regarding the population and property/wealth of the country former enabled the government to have an idea of the manpower of the country, and the latter provided it a basis for introducing new taxes and levies.

In India, an efficient system of collecting official and administrative statistics existed even more than 2,000 years ago, in particular, during the reign of Chandra Gupta Maurya ( 324 -300 B.C.). From Kautilya’s Arthshastra it is known that even before 300 B.C. a very good system of collecting ‘Vital Statistics’ and registration of births and deaths was in vogue. During Akbar’s reign ( 1556 – 1605 A.D.), Raja Todarmal, the then land, and revenue minister maintained good records of land and agricultural statistics. In Aina-e-Akbari written by Abul Fazl (in 1596 – 97), we find detailed accounts of the administrative and statistical surveys conducted during King Akbar’s reign.

In Germany, the systematic collection of official statistics originated towards the end of the 18th’century when in order to have an idea of the relative strength of different German States: information regarding population and industrial and agricultural output was collected. In England, statistics were the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars. The Wars necessitated the systematic collection of numerical data to enable the government to assess the revenues and expenditure with greater precision and then to levy new taxes in order to meet the cost of war.

The seventeenth century saw the origin of the ‘Vital Statistics’. Captain John Grant of London (1620 – 1674), known as the ‘father’ of Vital Statistics, was the first man to study the statistics of births and deaths. Computation of mortality tables and the calculation of expectation of life at different ages by a number of persons, by Casper Newman, Sir William Petty, and Dr. Price, to mention only a few, led to the idea of life insurance, and the first life insurance institution was founded in London in 1698.

The theoretical development of the so-called modem statistics came during the mid-seventeenth century with the introduction of ‘Theory of Probability’ and ‘Theory of Games and Chance’, the chief contributors being mathematicians and gamblers of France, Germany, and England. The French mathematician Pascal (1623 – 1662 ), after lengthy correspondence with another French mathematician P. Fermat (1601 – 1665 ) solved the famous ‘Problem of Points’ posed by the gambler Chevalier. His study of the problem laid the foundation of the theory of probability which is the backbone of the modern theory of statistics.

Pascal also investigated the properties of the coefficients of binomial expansions and also invented the mechanical computation machine. Other notable contributors in this field are James Bemouli (1654 – 1705), who wrote the first treatise on the ‘Theory of Probability; De-Moivre (1667 – 1754) who also worked on probabilities and annuities and published his important work “The Doctrine of Chances” in 1718. Laplace (1749 – 1827) who published in l782 his monumental work on the theory of probability, and Gauss (1777 – 1855) gave the principle of least squares and the normal law of errors. Later on, most of the prominent mathematicians of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries such as Euler, Lagrange, Bayes, A. Markoff, Khintchin, Kolmogoroff, to mention only a few, added to the contributions in the field of probability.

Francis Galton (1822-1921), with his works on ‘regression’, pioneered the use of statistical methods in the field of Biometry. Karl Pearson (1857-1936), the founder of the greatest statistical laboratory in England (1911), is the pioneer in correlational analysis. His discovery of the ‘chi-square test’, the first and the most important of modem tests of significance, won for statistics a place as a science, In 1908 the discovery of Student’s ‘t’ distribution by W.S. Gosset who wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Student’ ushered in an era of exact sample tests (small samples).

Sir Ronald A Fisher (1890 – 1962), known as the ‘Father of Statistics’, placed statistics on a very sound footing by applying it to various diversified fields, such as genetics, biometry, education, agriculture, etc. Apart from enlarging the existing theory, he is the pioneer in introducing the concepts of Point Estimation and ‘Exact Sampling Distributions’. He also pioneered the study of ‘Analysis of Variance’ and ‘Design of Experiments.’

Nowadays the ideas of statistics are everywhere. Descriptive statistics are featured in every newspaper and magazine. Statistical inference has become indispensable to public health and medical research, to engineering and scientific studies, to marketing and quality control, to education, to accounting, to economics, to meteorological forecasting, to polling and surveys, to sports, to insurance, to gambling, and to all research that makes any claim to being scientific.


  1. Introduction to Probability and Statistics for Scientists and Engineers – Sheldon Ross.
  2. Fundamentals of Mathematical Statistics – SC Gupta.

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