Shewhart was the first honorary member of the American Society of Quality. He brought together the disciplines of statistics, engineering, and economics which eventually earned him the right to be known as the father of quality.
He exhibited the restlessness of one looking for a better way. A man of science who patiently developed and tested his ideas and the ideas of others. He was an astute observer of developments in the world of science and technology. While the literature of the day discussed the stochastic nature of both biological and technical systems, and spoke of the possibility of applying statistical methodology to these systems, Shewhart actually showed how it was to be done; in that respect, the field of quality control can claim a genuine pioneer in Shewhart. His monumental work, Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product, published in 1931, is regarded as a complete and thorough exposition of the basic principles of quality control.
Dr. Shewhart completed a doctorate in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1917. He taught at the universities of Illinois and California, and he briefly headed the physics department at the Wisconsin Normal School in LaCrosse.
Most of Shewhart’s professional career was spent as an engineer at Western Electric from 1918 to 1924, and at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he served in several capacities as a member of the technical staff from 1925 until his retirement in 1956. He also lectured on quality control and applied statistics at the University of London, Stevens Institute of Technology, the graduate school of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in India. He was a member of the visiting committee at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, an honorary professor at Rutgers, and a member of the advisory committee of the Princeton mathematics department.
In addition to his teaching Dr. Shewhart was called upon frequently as a consultant serving notables organizations like the War Department, the United Nations, and the government of India. He was an honorary member of England’s Royal Statistical Society and the Calcutta Statistical Association. He was a fellow and officer of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Statistical Association, and a fellow of the Econometric Society, the International Statistical Institute, and the New York Academy of Science. He served for more than 20 years as the first editor of the Mathematical Statistics Series published by John Wiley and Sons.
Shewhart wrote Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control in 1939 and gained recognition in the statistical community. In addition, he published numerous articles in professional journals, and many of his writings were held internally at Bell Laboratories. One of these was the historic memorandum of May 16, 1924, in which he proposed the control chart to his superiors.
In a series of tributes to Shewhart published in Industrial Quality Control in August 1967, the most striking comment from the contributors—many of whom were themselves important figures in the development of the quality control field—was their respect for Shewhart’s gentlemanly approach and sincere interest in the work and concerns of others. His character is summed up in comments made by the chairman of the committee that awarded the first Shewhart Medal.
Walter Shewhart influenced many great leaders such as Deming who would go on to champion the PDCA cycle we know today. Dr. Shewhart was a true example of continuous improvement and his control chart which is still used today is proof that the Shewhart cycle continues to approach perfection.