Edgeworth, Francis Ysidro

Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1845-1926)

Environmentalist and Statistician

F.Y. Edgeworth was born in 1845 in Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, a nephew of the famous novelist, Maria Edgeworth, (author of Castle Rackrent), as well as of Francis Beaufort who devised the Beaufort Wind Scale. Mathematicians such as William Rowan Hamilton and Rev. Thomas Romney Robinson were frequent visitors to the Edgeworth home in Francis’s childhood. Indeed Robinson, who was the father in law of mathematician George Gabriel Stokes, married his aunt.

Edgeworth was educated by private tutors until he became a student of ancient and modern languages in Trinity College, Dublin and later Balliol College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1877 but never practised. His use of language was a “charming amalgam of poetry and pedantry, science and art, wit and learning”.

Edgeworth was a pioneer in the development of mathematical economics and the application of probability and statistics in analysing social and economic data. He sought to apply mathematics in the social sciences in a similar way to how Laplace had applied it, in his Mécanique Céleste, to the physical sciences. His first major publication applied the calculus of variations to derive conditions of maximum pleasure! Later, he made important contributions to the development of significance tests, the multivariate normal distribution and correlation. His work anticipated maximum likelihood estimation and analysis of variance. He applied statistics to psychical research, to banking, to the reliability of competitive examinations and to traffic rates to and from a wasp’s nest at Edgeworthstown! Today he is best known for the so-called Edgeworth series expansion.

In 1891 he became Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, and was elected a Fellow of All Souls College where he remained until he retired in 1922. He was President of the Royal Statistical Society (1912-14) and a Fellow of the British Academy. He was first Editor of the Economic Journal (1891-1926).


Anthony F. Desmond, (2000) Francis Ysidro Edgeworth in Creators of Mathematics: The Irish connection, Ken Houston (ed.). Dublin. University College Dublin Press.

Lluis Barbe, (2010) Francis Ysidro Edgeworth: A Portrait with Family and Friends. Edward Elgar Publishing.

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