R Dataset / Package HistData / Wheat

On this R-data statistics page, you will find information about the Wheat data set which pertains to Playfair's Data on Wages and the Price of Wheat. The Wheat data set is found in the HistData R package. You can load the Wheat data set in R by issuing the following command at the console data("Wheat"). This will load the data into a variable called Wheat. If R says the Wheat data set is not found, you can try installing the package by issuing this command install.packages("HistData") and then attempt to reload the data with the library() command. If you need to download R, you can go to the R project website. You can download a CSV (comma separated values) version of the Wheat R data set. The size of this file is about 683 bytes.

Playfair's Data on Wages and the Price of Wheat


Playfair (1821) used a graph, showing parallel time-series of the price of wheat and the typical weekly wage for a "good mechanic" from 1565 to 1821 to argue that working men had never been as well-off in terms of purchasing power as they had become toward the end of this period.

His graph is a classic in the history of data visualization, but commits the sin of showing two non-commensurable Y variables on different axes. Scatterplots of wages vs. price or plots of ratios (e.g., wages/price) are in some ways better, but both of these ideas were unknown in 1821.

In this version, information on the reigns of British monarchs is provided in a separate data.frame, Wheat.monarch.




WheatA data frame with 53 observations on the following 3 variables.


Year, in intervals of 5 from 1565 to 1821: a numeric vector


Price of Wheat (Shillings/Quarter bushel): a numeric vector


Weekly wage (Shillings): a numeric vector

Wheat.monarchs A data frame with 12 observations on the following 4 variables.


Reigning monarch, a factor with levels Anne Charles I Charles II Cromwell Elizabeth George I George II George III George IV James I James II W&M


Starting year of reign, a numeric vector


Starting year of reign, a numeric vector


A binary variable indicating the period of the Commonwealth under Cromwell


Playfair, W. (1821). Letter on our Agricultural Distresses, Their Causes and Remedies. London: W. Sams, 1821

Data values: originally digitized from http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/images/playfair-wheat1.gif now taken from http://mbostock.github.com/protovis/ex/wheat.js


Friendly, M. & Denis, D. (2005). The early origins and development of the scatterplot Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 41, 103-130.


data(Wheat)data(Wheat)# ------------------------------------
# Playfair's graph, largely reproduced
# ------------------------------------# convenience function to fill area under a curve down to a minimum value
fillpoly <- function(x,y, low=min(y),...) {
n <- length(x)
polygon( c(x, x[n], x[1]), c(y, low, low), ...)
}# For best results, this graph should be viewed with width ~ 2 * height
# Note use of type='s' to plot a step function for Wheat
# and panel.first to provide a background grid()
# The curve for Wages is plotted after the polygon below it is filled
with(Wheat, {
plot(Year, Wheat, type="s", ylim=c(0,105), 
ylab="Price of the Quarter of Wheat (shillings)", 
panel.first=grid(col=gray(.9), lty=1))
fillpoly(Year, Wages, low=0, col="lightskyblue", border=NA)
lines(Year, Wages, lwd=3, col="red")
# add some annotations
text(1625,10, "Weekly wages of a good mechanic", cex=0.8, srt=3, col="red")# cartouche
text(1650, 85, "Chart", cex=2, font=2)
text(1650, 70, 
paste("Shewing at One View", 
"The Price of the Quarter of Wheat", 
"& Wages of Labor by the Week", 
"from the Year 1565 to 1821",
"by William Playfair",
sep="\n"), font=3)# add the time series bars to show reigning monarchs
# distinguish Cromwell visually, as Playfair did
with(Wheat.monarchs, {
y <- ifelse( !commonwealth & (!seq_along(start) %% 2), 102, 104)
segments(start, y, end, y, col="black", lwd=7, lend=1)
segments(start, y, end, y, col=ifelse(commonwealth, "white", NA), lwd=4, lend=1)
text((start+end)/2, y-2, name, cex=0.5)
})# -----------------------------------------
# plot the labor cost of a quarter of wheat
# -----------------------------------------
Wheat1 <- within(na.omit(Wheat), {Labor=Wheat/Wages})
with(Wheat1, {
plot(Year, Labor, type='b', pch=16, cex=1.5, lwd=1.5, 
 ylab="Labor cost of a Quarter of Wheat (weeks)",
lines(lowess(Year, Labor), col="red", lwd=2)

# cartouche
text(1740, 10, "Chart", cex=2, font=2)
text(1740, 8.5, 
paste("Shewing at One View", 
"The Work Required to Purchase", 
"One Quarter of Wheat", 
sep="\n"), cex=1.5, font=3)with(Wheat.monarchs, {
y <- ifelse( !commonwealth & (!seq_along(start) %% 2), 12.3, 12.5)
segments(start, y, end, y, col="black", lwd=7, lend=1)
segments(start, y, end, y, col=ifelse(commonwealth, "white", NA), lwd=4, lend=1)
text((start+end)/2, y-0.2, name, cex=0.5)

Dataset imported from https://www.r-project.org.

Attachments: csv, json

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