Quetelet, Adolphe

BORN 22 Feb 1796, Gent, Oost-Vlaanderen - DIED 17 Feb 1874, Brussel
BIRTH NAME Quetelet, Lambert Adolphe Jacques
GRAVE LOCATION Bruxelles, Bruxelles-Capitale: Cimetière de Bruxelles, Avenue du Cimetière de Bruxelles 159, Evere (Pelouse 14, Rond-Point des Bourgemestres)

Adolphe Quetelet was the son of the Frenchman François Augustin Jacques Henri Quetelet, who lived and worked in Great Britain before he settled in Ghent where he worked for the city. His mother Anne Françoise Vandervelde was Flemish. He studied at the Lycée in Ghent where he taught mathematics himselfd by the time he was nineteen years old. He continued his studies at the Athenaeum in Brussels and he received a doctorate from the University of Ghent in mathematics in 1819. In 1820 he became a member of the Royal Academy in England. He lectured in Brussels and became a member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands in 1827.

In 1825 he married Cécile Virginie Curtet (1801-1858), the daughter of the French physician Antoine Curtet (1763-1830). They a son, Ernest (1825-1878) and a daughter, Isaure (1826-1860). In 1828 Quetelet started building an astronomical observatory in Brussels after studying with Arago in Paris for several months. From 1834 to 1874 he was Permanent Secretary to the Belgian Royal Academy. In 1835 he published "Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés, essai d'une physique sociale" about average human characteristics that follow a normal distribution. He used this concept to create profiles for criminals, soldiers and other groups. This led to controversies and the mathematician A.A. Cournot laughed at his work because sometimes Quetelet seemed to see normal distributions where they didn't exist.

Quetelet did important work for the practical application of statistics to social science and he organised international cooperation among statisticians. He was the founder of both journals and societies in that area. From 1855 he suffered from apoplexy. This reduced his scienific activitiy but it didn't end it. He lived until 1874 and died in Brussels.

The body mass index that was originally known as the Quetelet index that was developed by him determines if a person has overweight by dividing the weight in kilos by the square of the height in meters. If the resulting number is greater than 30 then there is overweight.

Related persons
• was pupil of Arago, François
• met Minghetti, Marco


The grave of Adolphe Quetelet at the Cimetière de Bruxelles, Evere.
Picture by Androom (27 May 2022)


The grave of Adolphe Quetelet at the Cimetière de Bruxelles, Evere.
Picture by Androom (27 May 2022)


• Bernstein, Peter L., Against the Gods, The remarkable Strory of Risk, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1996
Adolphe Quetelet - Wikipedia

Quidde, Ludwig

Published: 30 Sep 2023
Last update: 30 Sep 2023