The department was founded in 1948 and by 1950 had a faculty of five: Albert Bowker and Abraham Girshick, Quinn McNemar (joint with Psychology), Kenneth Arrow (joint with Economics), and Herman Rubin. By 1956 Bowker brought Herman Chernoff, Charles Stein, Lincoln Moses, Gerald Lieberman, and Samuel Karlin into the department. In less than a decade the department was considered mature.
The next five years (1956–1961) saw astounding growth within the university. The Medical School was moved to the main campus and the Stanford Linear Accelerator was created. The Statistics Department was part of this expansion when Emanuel Parzen, Vernon Johns, Herbert Scarf, Herbert Solomon, William Madow, Rupert Miller, Harvey Wagner, Kai Lai Chung, Patrick Suppes, Hirofumi Uzawa, and Ingram Olkin all joined the faculty. Bowker’s administrative genius was to recognize that statistics alone would not be able to sustain a large department. However, by generating liaisons with other departments in the form of joint appointments, the department could have an impact in the university and also carry out a research agenda in various substantive fields. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Albert Bowker to Wallace Sterling in May 1951, when Sterling was University President:
Our Statistics Department has been integrated quite successfully into the general university program. Professor McKinsey in Philosophy and Professor Grant Ireson in Industrial Engineering have been brought to Stanford by funds provided by our projects; Professor Hans Lewy, a very distinguished applied mathematician works on one of our programs. Faculty from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Economics, Philosophy, and Mathematics are all associated with research programs we have developed, and members of our staff have worked either as collaborators or as statistical consultants with faculty from the Medical School, the Graduate School of Business, the Hoover Library, the Food Research Institute, the School of Mineral Sciences, as well as the Departments of Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Economics, Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology, and Biology.
Over the years there have been joint appointments with Economics (Anderson, Arrow, Romano), Mathematics (Candès, Chatterjee, Dembo, Diaconis, Karlin), Earth Sciences (Switzer), Education (Olkin), Psychology (McNemar), Computer Science, (Ma), Operations Research (Lieberman), ICME (Candès), SLAC (Friedman), Symbolic Systems (Diaconis, Holmes), Electrical Engineering (Cover, Duchi, Montanari), and the School of Medicine (Efron, Hastie, Johnstone, Lai, Miller, Moses, Palacios, Tibshirani, Wong).
The first doctorates were awarded to Herbert Solomon (1950) and Lincoln Moses (1951). Since then, nearly 500 doctorates and — commencing in the early '80s — over 1200 master’s degrees have been awarded. The department offered a bachelor’s degree for a number of years, but the student enrollment was low. Instead, a joint degree that includes mathematics, statistics, applied mathematics, and computer science was created. The result was the interdisciplinary Mathematical and Computational Science program, which has been highly successful with a 2018 graduating class of 50 students (up from 22 graduates in 2010).
Stanford established a series of fellowships in 1993 in honor of Gerald J. Lieberman. The fellowships are awarded to outstanding advanced doctoral students who intend to pursue a career in university teaching and research. In 2011 the department established the Charles Stein Fellowship in Statistics, designed to be an academic career-building step for new scholars. In 2016, two new awards were inaugurated at the Diploma Ceremony in June: the Ingram Olkin Dissertation Award was created to acknowledge significant contributions to interdisciplinary research by a Ph.D. candidate; and the Theodore W. Anderson Theory of Statistics Dissertation Award recognizes exceptional achievements in the area of theoretical statistics, and was presented for the first time with Ted, his wife Dorothy, son Bob and daughter Jenny all in attendance.
Lincoln Moses joined the faculty in 1953 as a joint appointment between Community Medicine and Statistics. At the time, the School of Medicine was housed in San Francisco. In 1959 the School of Medicine moved to the Stanford campus, and Biostatistics became a division in what was the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Rupert Miller joined the Division, again with a joint appointment. Byron W. "Bill" Brown and Bradley Efron were later added to the group. They were successful in being awarded a NIH Training Grant (with Miller as principal investigator) that supported a number of students interested in biostatistics.
In 1988 the Division of Biostatistics became one of three arms in the Department of Health Research and Policy, and in late 2015 it transitioned once more to the Department of Biomedical Data Science. Its faculty has grown considerably, and many cooperative programs and projects are shared between biostatistics and statistics. The current key personnel affiliated with the Department of Statistics are Bradley Efron, Trevor Hastie, Iain Johnstone, Philip Lavori, Balasubramanian Narasimhan, Julia Palacios, Chiara Sabatti, Robert Tibshirani, and Wing Wong.