Walter A Shewhart

Shewhart was concerned that statistical theory serves the needs of industry. He exhibited the restlessness of one looking for a better way. A man of science who patiently developed and tested his ideas and the ideas of others, he was an astute observer of developments in the world of science and technology. While the literature of the day discussed the stochastic nature of both biological and technical systems and spoke of the possibility of applying statistical methodology to these systems, Shewhart showed how it was to be done; in that respect, the field of quality control can claim a genuine pioneer in Shewhart. His monumental work, Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product, published in 1931, is regarded as a complete and thorough exposition of the basic principles of quality control.

A strong background in the sciences and engineering prepared Shewhart for a life of accomplishments. He graduated from the University of Illinois with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and he received a doctorate in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1917. He taught at the universities of Illinois and California, and he briefly headed the physics department at the Wisconsin Normal School in LaCrosse.

Most of Shewhart’s professional career was spent as an engineer at Western Electric from 1918 to 1924, and at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he served in several capacities as a member of the technical staff from 1925 until his retirement in 1956. He also lectured on quality control and applied statistics at the University of London, Stevens Institute of Technology, the graduate school of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in India. He was a member of the visiting committee at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, an honorary professor at Rutgers, and a member of the advisory committee of the Princeton mathematics department.