While going through Wikipedia's article History of statistics

I found

In 1786 William Playfair (1759-1823) introduced the idea of graphical representation into statistics. He invented the line chart, bar chart, and histogram and incorporated them into his works on economics, the Commercial and Political Atlas.

William Playfair(22 September 1759 – 11 February 1823) invented the line chart, bar chart, and histogram.

And in the Histogram article

A histogram is an approximate representation of the distribution of numerical data. It was first introduced by Karl Pearson.

From ine.es

academic and learned online publications, take this extract from an online entry for “Karl Pearson: “Two days later he [i.e., Pearson] introduced the histogram – a term he coined to designate a 'time-diagram' to be used for historical purposes”

Histogram was first introduced and coined by Karl Pearson(27 March 1857 – 27 April 1936).

The context is not clear and I'm a bit confused on the invention of Histogram.

Does anyone know who first invented/introduced a Histogram? I would be happy to receive any additional reference from you.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ History of ideas is too complicated to be left to amateurs... and I am one too. Pearson's contribution was the term histogram, not the idea. I don't know that Playfair ever had a histogram modern sense, and others were there earlier than Playfair with bar charts. Guerry, A.-M. 1833. Essai sur la Statistique Morale de la France. Paris: Crochard.has also been suggested as if not the first, then an early user of histograms. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Aug 14, 2020 at 8:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Parsing "histogram" as intended to mean time diagram or history diagram (which I have also seen) is utter nonsense. The root histos here implies being upright, and also occurs differently in histology. So, if as I have occasionally done, you present a histogram with horizontal bars, then it's on this etymology not a histogram, but I have not seen that objection. Full non-disclosure. I use Wikipedia just about every day with gratitude and yet distrust it mightily on anything close to my home territory. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Aug 14, 2020 at 8:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NickCox Thank you for the comments. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2020 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ Line charts go back before Playfair too. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Aug 14, 2020 at 9:46

1 Answer 1


The best I know of at the moment is by an article by Rufilanchas in 2017 [1]: in it, he says that Pearson, the first person to use the word (not the first who used such a diagram), used it in relation to how he believed that the vertical alignment of columns to represent frequency distributions is preferable to it aligned horizontally:

"...Pearson, who seemed to be mostly interested in the psychological effect of the difference in orientation of the bars, found some “optical advantage of vertical over horizontal columns” (Pearson, 1938: 144), hence the choice for a word specifically meaning a vertical structure like a mast as the element for the root of the new word “histogram”..."

We see how this preference for the vertical arrangement of the columns relates to the prefix 'histo' in a little more detail in the Oxford English Dictionary which states its etymology: "... Etymology: < histo- (in histology n.), ultimately < ancient Greek ἱστός mast, (upright) beam of a loom [3], (woven) web < ἵστασθαι , medio-passive of ἱστάναι to (cause to) stand (see stand v.)..."

References and notes:
[1] Rufilanchas, D.R. On the origin of Karl Pearson’s term 'histogram'. Revista Estadistica Española. 2017:192. pg 29-35 (you can get articles and issues at https://www.ine.es/ss/Satellite?c=Page&cid=1254735226759&pagename=ProductosYServicios%2FPYSLayout&L=0).
[2] "histo-, comb. form." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2021. Web. 1 October 2021.
[3] Though not part of this question, here it leads to how the prefix 'histo' relates to the medical term histology: tissues appear like the woven cloth made using the vertical loom, both of which use the word 'histo'; see Mossakowska-Gaubert, M. A new kind of loom in early Roman Egypt? How iconography could explain (or not) papyrological evidence" (2020). in Mossakowska-Gaubert, M. Egyptian textiles and their production: ‘word’ and ‘object’. Zea books. pg 13-21, and https://chs.harvard.edu/susan-t-edmunds-picturing-homeric-weaving/#n.22.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.