William Playfair “Farther of Modern Day Infographics”

William Playfair was born on the 22nd September 1759 and died on the 11th of February 1823 at the age of 63. He was a scottish engineer and political economist. He was the fourth son and named after his grandfarther his notiable brothers were architect James playfair and mathematition John playfair. His farther died in 1772 when William was 13 leabing his eldest brother to care for them .After his apprenticeship with Andrew Meikle, the inventor of the threshing machine, Playfair became draftsman and personal assistant to James Watt at the Boulton and Watt steam engine manufactory in Soho, Birmingham.

Playfair had a variety of careers. He was in turn a millwright, engineer, draftsman, accountant, inventor, silversmith, merchant, investment broker, economist, statistician, pamphleteer, translator, publicist, land speculator, convict, banker, ardent royalist, editor, blackmailer and journalist.  He had a first class knowledge of engineering practice based largely on his experience in Matthew Boulton’s manufactory – the world’s first modern factory. He took out several patents, mostly involving machines for metal working, including a patent for the first mass-produced silver-plated spoon, but he also proposed innovations such as modifications to the bows of ships to make them faster and improvements to agricultural implements. When he was confronted by a problem he would invariably offer a practical solution – this would often involve the application or adaptation of what he already knew to work well in other situations. Of equal importance was his insistence in recording his proposal

One Victorian biographer described William Playfair as an “engineer, political economist and scoundrel”. Today he is remembered less for his speculative get-rich-quick schemes and more for writings whose significance were not widely appreciated in his day.

He was also the founder of graphical methods of statistics or infographics. He invented many types of diagrams. In 1786 he created the line, area and bar chart of economic data, and in 1801 the pie chart and circle graph, used to show part-whole relations. The first chart that he had made was the Commercial and Political Atlas, published in 1786 which contained the first bar chart.

As a secret agent, Playfair reported on the French Revolution and organised a clandestine counterfeiting operation in 1794 to collapse the French currency. After falling foul of (and narrowly avoiding being arrested by) the French Revolutionary Government, William moved to London, where he established a bank called the Security Bank. Its aim was to enable small secured loans to be made to Londoners, but it soon went bust when the securities taken on the loans proved to be insufficient to cover the outstanding finance.


Simple Infographic Maker Tool by Easelly. (2020). VIDEO: The History of Infographics. [online] Available at: https://www.easel.ly/blog/the-history-of-infographics/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].

En.wikipedia.org. (2020). William Playfair. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Playfair [Accessed 3 Feb. 2020].

info@undiscoveredscotland.co.uk, U. (2020). William Playfair: Biography on Undiscovered Scotland. [online] Undiscoveredscotland.co.uk. Available at: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/p/williamplayfair.html [Accessed 3 Feb. 2020].

Encyclopediaofmath.org. (2020). Playfair, William – Encyclopedia of Mathematics. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopediaofmath.org/index.php/Playfair,_William [Accessed 3 Feb. 2020].

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