Thursday, February 7, 2013

Historical Note on Graph Paper

Dit Le Spawn:

Stumbling through an old issue of The American Statistician today I saw a nice (if dry) little article, "Quantitative Graphics in Statistics: A Brief History", by James R. Beniger and Dorothy L. Robyn (1978; Vol 32, pp. 1-11). In it they mention the first known commercial production of graph paper (p. 3):

The rise of coordinate plotting is also documented in the commercial development of graph paper. Rectangular grid paper was first offered for sale by a Dr. Buxton in London in 1794. Buxton's product first appeared in published research six years later, in an article on barometric variations which included a footnote advertising the product [Howard*, p. 357]. Herschel made ingenious use of plotted data to calculate the elements of the elliptical orbits of double stars, and his 1832 paper on the subject included a ringing endorsement of graph paper: "Such charts may be obtained, neatly engraved; and are so very useful for a great variety of purposes, that every person engaged in astronomical computations, or indeed, in physico-mathematical inquiries of any description, will find his account in keeping a stock of them always at hand" [Herschel**, pp. 171-2].
D&D would seem to fall under the rubric of a "physico-mathematical inquiry of any description".

*Howard, L. (1800), "On a Periodical Variation of the Barometer, Apparently due to the Influence of the Sun and Moon on the Atmosphere," Philosophical Magazine, 7, 355-363.

**Herschel, J. F. W. (1833), "On the Investigation of the Orbits of Revolving Double Stars," Memoirs of' the Royal Astronomical Society, 5, 171-172; read January 13, 1832.