Kish, Leslie, 1910-2000

Alternative names
Birth 1910-07-27
Death 2000-10-07

Biographical notes:

Sociologist, a founder of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, specialist in scientific population sampling.

From the description of Leslie Kish photographs and videotape. 1966-1981 (scattered) and 2001. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 49866623

From the description of Leslie Kish papers, 1952-2001. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 77767403

Leslie Kish was born in 1910 in Poprad, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in Slovakia. He emigrated to the United with his family in 1925. In 1937, concerned about the threat of a fascist sweep through Europe, Kish volunteered with the International Brigade to fight the Spanish Loyalists.

He returned home in 1939 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the City College of New York with a degree in mathematics. He then moved to Washington DC, when he was employed first at the US Census Bureau, then at the US Department of Agriculture, where he joined a group of social scientists, including psychologist Rensis Likert, who were creating a survey research unit within the department. Again, his career was interrupted by a war. In 1942-1945, he served in the US Army Air Corps as a meteorologist.

In 1947, Kish moved to the University of Michigan with Likert and others, to found the Institute for Social Research, the world's largest academic survey and research organization. One of the programs that he initiated for the institute was the Sampling Program for Foreign Statisticians offered in the summer and that now has two generations of alumni in more that 100 countries. During his early years at Michigan, Kish combined full time statistical work with the completion of an MA in mathematical statistics in 1948 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1952.

The superiority of the sampling techniques that he developed was first established in the 1948 US presidential election. A small national probability sample of less than 1000 US households drawn by Kish and his Michigan colleagues showed Dewey and Truman running very close together, with Truman in a slight lead, while commercial polls and the press predicted a Dewey landslide. Kish was also one of the first proponents of an annual rolling sampling, such as the American Community Survey, scheduled to replace the long form of the US decennial census by 2010.

Kish was widely recognized as one of the world's leading experts on scientific population sampling, and received many honors and awards during his career. He was named a Russel Lecturer and elected president of the American Statistical Association. He also was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Statistical Society of England. His 1965 book, Survey Sampling, is still used around the world.

Kish's scholarly writing and innovative research continued after his formal retirement in 1981. He traveled extensively, consulting on sampling and multinational survey design with colleagues in the US and around the world. He was elected an honorary member of the International Statistical Institute and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bologna, Italy, on the occasion of its 900th anniversary.

Leslie Kish died on October 7, 2000 in Ann Arbor at age 90.

Note: This biography was excerpted from The University Record, October 16, 2000.

From the guide to the Leslie Kish Papers, 1952-2001, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)


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Ark ID:


  • Sampling (Statistics)
  • Social surveys
  • Social sciences--Statistical methods
  • Students, Foreign--Michigan--Ann Arbor
  • Sociology--Study and teaching
  • Students, Foreign


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  • Michigan--Ann Arbor (as recorded)