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Mathematical Treasure: Graunt's Early Statistics on Mortality

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

John Graunt (1620-1674) was a London merchant and public servant. Graunt became interested in the patterns of sickness and deaths occurring in London. He studied them using data supplied by “Bills of Mortality” published by the city government. This pioneering work in demography and applied statistics earned him a reputation in the fields of social science, demography, mathematics, and statistics.

The title page of his 1662 Natural and Political Observations: Mentioned in a following Index and made upon the Bills of Mortality is shown here.

This is the Index compiled by Graunt. It is based on data from the year 1632.

Bills of Mortality” were weekly death records published by the Company of Parish Clerks for the city of London. These Bills supplied the numbers and causes of deaths within the city. This practice was followed from 1592 to 1858. A “Bill of Mortality” for a period in the year 1664 is shown below.

These images are presented through the courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Graunt's Early Statistics on Mortality," Convergence (August 2019)