1913 – 2013
Accomplishments in statistics
"George Box is, in the field of the quality sciences, the consummate ‘Renaissance man’ who has made significant and enduring contributions to the profession of quality control and the allied arts and sciences," Frank Caplan, then-editor of Quality Engineering, said. "[His] contributions encompass considerable scope and have already had lasting effect." Box was named an Honorary ASQ member in 1996.
A statistician with more than five decades of experience, Box was a native of Gravesend, England. His career started with the British Army Engineers. During World War II, he was responsible for performing biochemical determinations on the effect of poison gases on small animals. Box was a chemistry student, not a statistician, and when his tests produced varied results, he requested the aid of a statistician. A statistician was unavailable, Box was told. He would have to learn to do it himself, and learn he did.
Box contacted correspondence schools and found no courses on statistics available in 1942, but he was able to secure a list of books on the subject. Reading those books provided him with techniques and concepts to apply to his experiments. The sophistication he demonstrated with his experiments was noticed and in 1946 he received the British Empire Medal.
After the war, Box obtained his bachelor's degree in mathematics and statistics from University College. While working on his master's degree, he accepted a summer position with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Box was responsible for proofreading the copy for a book on industrial experimentation that ICI was publishing. His many changes and improvements to the book resulted in his being named co-author of the text.
Box eventually became head of the statistical techniques research section of ICI and earned his doctorate. Many of the theories and concepts he introduced at ICI were included in his thesis. Research experimentation was not the only area at ICI that benefited from his presence. He also had a positive effect on the chemical and mechanical processes in the manufacturing areas of the organization. The results of his work in that area spawned co-authorship of a paper for the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society in 1951.
That paper caught the attention of Frank Grubbs at the U.S. Army Research Office. Grubbs arranged for Box to become a visiting research professor for the Institute of Statistics at the University of North Carolina.
Involvement With ASQ
Box encouraged the creation of a journal devoted to statistics and statistical implications. ASQ and the American Statistical Association (ASA) responded to his encouragement by creating Technometrics.
In 1960, Box moved to Madison, Wis., where he was professor and first chairman of the statistics department at the University of Wisconsin. His many accomplishments in the field of statistics earned him ASQ's Shewhart Medal in 1968.
Box continued his teaching through the 1970s, first as a visiting professor at the University of Essex in England. Then, in 1971, he was appointed to the Ronald Aylmer Fisher chair of statistics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He maintained his involvement with the University of Wisconsin with an appointment as professor of industrial engineering. He eventually joined the university's Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement, first as director and later as director of research and professor emeritus.
Over the years, Box has published numerous articles and papers, and he is the author or co-author of many books. He was a three-time recipient of ASQ's Brumbaugh Award, twice received the Youden Prize of ASQ's Chemical and Process Industries Division, and received the Metropolitan Section's Deming Medal.