The origins of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) can be traced back to a series of International Statistical Congresses, the first of which was convened by Adolphe Quetelet in 1853 in Brussels. The ISI was formally founded in 1885, during a meeting held to celebrate the Jubilee of the London Statistical Society. The initial 81 members were the elite of that era’s statisticians in government and academia. They established our first statutes, and our first half-century was a period of general stability. Major changes, such as a proposed affiliation in 1920 with the League of Nations, were resisted.
The first President of the ISI was Rawson W. Rawson who served from 1885 to 1899, the year he died. Other early Presidents also served long terms. Since 1975, however, the terms of Presidents have been limited to two years. Of the 36 ISI Presidents so far, 20 were from Europe, 8 from North America, 4 from Asia, 2 from South America, and 2 from Australia.
There are several interesting examples of the early development and applications of statistics by ISI members. For example, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in the development of statistical graphics to visually represent data. She developed diagrams called coxcombs and used them to illustrate the various causes of death during the Crimean War.