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Oscar Kempthorne papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RS 13/24/52

Scope and Content

The Oscar Kempthorne Papers (1939-1995) document his professional activities as a Distinguished Professor in Science and Humanities at Iowa State University. During his professional career he organized and participated in various conferences, taught, researched, wrote, lectured, advised, belonged to several professional organizations, as well as receiving various honors and awards. Also included are records of the Iowa State University Statistics Laboratory, typescripts of his two most popular texts, original drafts of publications, conference notes, grant applications and information, correspondence, teaching materials, lectures and research data.


  • 1819-1995, undated


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


Oscar Kempthorne was born January 31, 1919 in St. Tudy, Cornwall, England. He began his fascination with mathematics at the age of 10 with ancient rate problems, moving to real algebra and calculus in high school. He aspired to attend Cambridge University, which had a reputation for excellence in mathematics and was successful enough to receive his education fully upon scholarship.

Oscar Kempthorne received a B.A. (1940) with Honours from Cambridge University, an M.A. (1943), and was awarded the Sc.D. degree (1960) conferred on the basis of Kempthorne’s research in the design of experiments and genetic statistics. As a student, Kempthorne studied under Wishart, Irwin, Eddington, Hawking, Jeffreys and was first exposed to R.A. Fisher, whom he eventually met in 1951. Fisher, whom Kempthorne called “a genius,” was a driving force in genetics and developed two new approaches to mathematics, the interpretation of data and the collection of data. While at Cambridge, Kempthorne was introduced to burgeoning ideas in statistics, for example, errors of observation, analysis of variance and design and analysis.

His first actual statistical work came in a 1940 collaborative drug study with J.O. Irwin. From 1941-1946 he was employed under Frank Yates at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, perhaps the first agricultural research station. In 1946 Oscar Kempthorne worked as a statistician as part of an international organization monitoring elections in post-war Greece. It was in Greece that Kempthorne was introduced to the statistics department at Iowa State University, and he thereby joined the fledgling department.

When Oscar Kempthorne joined Iowa State University in 1947 as an Associate Professor of Statistics in the Mathematics Department there were only three Departments of Statistics in the United States that awarded degrees in Statistics: Iowa State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University at Raleigh. At the time of his retirement the number of universities awarding degrees in statistics had swelled from three to over 180 in the United States.

Kempthorne was promoted to Professor of Statistics in 1951 and to Distinguished Professor in Science and Humanities in 1964. During his years at Iowa State University he continued to teach enthusiastically, carry through a number of contractual research and grant projects, publish a variety of applied statistics articles, and work on his basic inquiries into statistical inference. He is sole or coauthor of some 140 papers; his publications include the Journal of American Statistical Association (JASA), Annals of Mathematical Statistics, Biometrics, Genetics, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, as well as various substantive journals.

Kempthorne wrote five books while at Iowa State University, The Design and Analysis of Experiments, Statistics and Mathematics Biology, An Introduction to Genetic Statistics, Biometrical Genetics, and Probability, Statistics and Data Analysis. Two of which are fundamental texts in introductory statistics curriculums.

Within Kempthorne’s first years he became deeply involved with the graduate program. He became the principle individual actively directing graduate research in statistics; he was then 29 years old. In his 44 years at Iowa State University, 44 Ph.D. students have completed doctorates under him; 8 of these and 16 other students completed master’s programs under his guidance.

Between 1970 and 1984, Kempthorne received various awards for his excellence in teaching and research in statistics. He received the Wilton Park Award made to Iowa State University faculty to participate in the Wilton Park Conference in Sussex, England and was Recipient of the Iowa State University Alumni Association Faculty Citation for long, outstanding and inspiring service on the University staff in 1977. In 1984, a Festschrift was named in honor of Oscar Kempthorne, Experimental Design, Statistical Methods, and Genetic Statistics, edited by Klaus Hinklemann and Marcel Dekker.

Professor Kempthorne served as the fiftieth president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), 1984-1985; chair, Section U (Statistics) of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), 1981; and as president of the Biometric Society (Eastern North America Region) in 1961 and 1964. He was elected a fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), 1952; IMS, 1952; AAAS, 1952; an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI), and was named an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1988. After over fifty years in statistics, he retired in 1989. In his final year at Iowa State University, Kempthorne was honored by his colleagues with a conference entitled “From Observation to Inference — A Conference in Honor of Oscar Kempthorne.”

As emeritus professor of statistics and emeritus distinguished professor in liberal arts and sciences at Iowa State University, Oscar Kempthorne received an honorary doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Ioannina, Greece in 1993. It was the first honorary degree offered in the school’s 25-year history. Kempthorne was honored for “his outstanding contributions in the fields of statistics and statistical genetics.” Later that year, Iowa State University dedicated the Statistics Reading Room, one of Kempthorne’s responsibilities, the Oscar Kempthorne Reading Room.


77.22 Linear Feet (169 document boxes, 23 half-document boxes, 1 oversized box)


The Kempthorne papers are compromised of the following series of papers:

Series 1: Biographical Information, 1944-1995

Series 2: Correspondence, 1941-1992, undated

Series 3: Grants, 1955-1982, undated

Series 4: Professional Organizations, Conferences, and Travel, 1950-1990, undated

Series 5: Research and Teaching Related Materials, 1948-1987, undated

Series 6: Scientific Subject File, 1941-1982, undated

Series 7: Writings: Articles, 1944-1995, undated

Series 8: Writings: Books, 1952-1977

Series 9: Writings: Reviews by Oscar Kempthorne, 1948-1980, undated

Series 10: Writings: Reviews by Miscellaneous Authors, 1970-1992, undated

Series 11: Writings: Early Papers, 1944-1971, undated

Series 12: Writings: Working Papers, 1947-1986, undated

Series 13: Correspondence from Residence, 1949-1995, undated

Series 14: Consulting: Materials from Residence, 1947-1983, undated

Series 15: Materials from Residence: Teaching Materials and Coursework, 1951-1993, undated

Series 16: Department of Statistics, 1941-1995, undated

Series 17: Graduate Theses, 1959-1993, undated

Series 18: Reference Materials, 1888-1994, undated

Series 19: Reviews, 1971-1994, undated

Series 20: Writings, Lectures, Symposiums, Speeches, Comments, and Conferences, 1930-1994, undated

Items in related collections

RS 13/24. Iowa State University. Department of Statistics records

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

RS 13/24/52. Oscar Kempthorne papers, 1819-1995, undated
April 10, 2019
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672