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Snedecor, George Waddel

Published onOct 14, 2021
Snedecor, George Waddel

(October 20, 1881 - February 15, 1974)

Quick Facts

Snedecor organized the Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State College and became the Laboratory's first Director (1933-1947).

c. 1913

George Snedecor was born on October 20, 1881 in Memphis, Tennessee. Snedecor earned a BS (1905) in mathematics and physics at the University of Alabama and an AM in physics from the University of Michigan. He joined Iowa State College (now University) as an Assistant Professor (1913-1914) of mathematics, eventually being promoted to Associate Professor (1914-1931) and Professor (1931-1958).

Soon after starting at Iowa State, Snedecor became interested in statistical applications particularly as they applied to agricultural research. Snedecor incorporated research data from investigations conducted at Iowa State in a mathematics course. The Department of Statistics at Iowa State was not formed until 1947, but Snedecor began teaching statistics in 1915 through the Department of Mathematics. This first course in statistics was called the "Mathematical Theory of Statistics."

He collaborated with Henry A. Wallace, editor of Wallace's Farmer magazine and future Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States, who had also become interested in statistics related to agricultural research. They instituted weekly Saturday afternoon seminars during the winter and spring of 1924 which were primarily for agricultural and biological research workers. These seminars were the beginning of a specialized interest in statistical research at Iowa State. During the course of these seminars, Wallace revealed rapid machine calculation through the use of business machines. These seminars eventually led to their 1925 bulletin summarizing the lectures, "Correlation and Machine Calculation." Snedecor's first publication, the bulletin gained worldwide recognition.

Growing demand for statistical services caused Iowa State to create the Mathematics Statistical Service in the Department of Mathematics in 1927. Snedecor was put in charge of the service, which provided computational services to research workers. In 1933, Snedecor organized the Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State College and became the Laboratory's first Director (1933-1947). The first of its kind in the nation, the Statistical Laboratory provides consulting work and promotes statistical research. The Statistical Laboratory grew to become one of the most prominent statistical labs in the country. Under his leadership, the Laboratory grew to be one of the most prominent statistical laboratories in the country and was frequently visited by others in an effort to establish similar institutes on their own campuses. That same year (1933), Snedecor was also appointed the Station Statistician of the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station. The Statistical Laboratory continues to be a research service institute which conducts research in statistical theory and methodology and promotes and fosters the use of sound statistical methods in University research through on-campus consulting.

Gertrude Cox, a student of Snedecor's, received in 1931 the first advanced degree (an MS) in statistics given at Iowa State. She would later work at the Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State and established the first Department of Experimental Statistics in the nation at North Carolina State College in 1941.

In addition to numerous articles on statistics and "Correlation and Machine Calculation" with Henry Wallace, Snedecor published several books. Soon after his first publication, Snedecor became aware of Ronald Fisher's statistical work on new statistical methodologies. Fisher's work influenced Snedecor's efforts to publish works for research workers. As a result, the bulletin was revised and reissued. Also influenced by Fisher, his first book was published in 1923: Calculation and Interpretation of Analysis of Variance and Covariance. Statistical Methods was published in 1937. A major contribution to the field (published in eight editions), the book was an introduction to applied and computational statistics and included examples and exercises. As with many of his publications, Statistical Methods grew out of his experience consulting with the university community on statistical matters. William G. Cochran was co-author for the sixth and seventh editions, and the eighth was prepared by several members of Iowa State's Department of Statistics.

Snedecor brought Fisher to Iowa State as a visiting professor in 1931 and 1936. While a visiting professor, Fisher was awarded an honorary DSc degree. This was the first time an American university recognized the English statistician's contributions to the field of statistics.

Snedecor received numerous honors and awards in recognition of his contributions to the field of statistics. He was elected as a fellow of several national and international organizations including the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the International Biometric Society. The Alumni Association of Iowa State College awarded him a Faculty Citation in 1955, and he received honorary doctorates from North Carolina State University and Iowa State College (University).

Although Snedecor participated in discussions to establish a Department of Statistics at Iowa State, he retired from his administrative duties as Director of the Statistical Laboratory the same year the Department of Statistics was established (1947). He continued as a Professor of Statistics and then as a professor emeritus after his retirement in1958. After retirement, Snedecor served as a private consultant for the U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory in San Diego, California. He passed away in Amherst, Massachusetts on February 15, 1974.

Selected Sources

George Waddel Snedecor Papers, RS 13/24/51, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Stat Departmental History:

Cox, Gertrude M., and Paul G. Homeyer. “Professional and Personal Glimpses of George W. Snedecor.” Biometrics 31, no. 2 (1975): 265–301.

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