Sellin was born in Örnsköldsvik in Västernorrland County, Sweden and came to Canada with his parents when he was 17 years old. He received his bachelor's degree from Augustana College in Illinois when he was 19. He went on to receive a master's degree and doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.
He taught at the University of Pennsylvania from 1922 until he retired in 1967. Dr. Sellin came to prominence in the 1920s and 30s for his studies in the use of criminal statistics at local, state, national and international levels. He later helped draft the U.S. Uniform Criminal Statistics Act in 1944.
An expert on crime statistics, he advised the Federal Bureau of Investigation about statistical matters and was a consultant to the Bureau of the Census on criminal statistics. He also headed, or was a member of, various United Nations panels of experts on criminological questions. Dr. Sellin was a visiting professor or lecturer at Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, Oxford and other universities.
Active in international groups, he was secretary-general of the Bern-based International Penal and Penitentiary Commission (later called the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation) from 1949 to 1951. He was president of the International Society of Criminology from 1956 to 1965. Sellin edited the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science for 39 years, from 1929 to 1968.
Dr. Sellin died in Gilmanton, New Hampshire at the age of 97.
Legacy and honors
- Research Memorandum on Crime in the Depression (1937)
- War and Crime: A research memorandum (1942)
- The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1943)
- Some Current Issues in Penal Treatment (1950)
- The significance of records of crime (1951)
- The Protective Code: A Swedish Proposal (1957)
- The death penalty: A report for the Model penal code project of the American Law Institute (1959)
- Constructing an index of delinquency: A manual (1963)
- Systems of reporting "crimes known to the police" in selected foreign countries (1967)
- The Criminality of Youth (1975)
- Social Security Death Index (Social Security Administration)
- Thorsten Sellin, Criminology Expert (New York Times. September 20, 1994)
- Charlesworth, James C. (1969) "The Academy Dips Its Colors to Dr. Sellin," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 381: pp. iii-iv
- Wolfgang, Marvin E. (1968) "Thorsten Sellin and the Principal Trends in Modern Penology" in Wolfgang, Marvin E. (ed.) (1968) Crime and Culture: Essays in Honor of Thorsten Sellin Wiley, New York, pp. 3–10, ISBN 0-471-95958-8
- Charlesworth, James C. (1969) "The Academy Dips Its Colors to Dr. Sellin" Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 381: pp. iii-iv
- Pastor, Selma (1985) A Bibliography of the Publications of Professor Thorsten Sellin Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, OCLC 21939720
- Wolfgang, Marvin E. (1996) "Thorsten Sellin (26 October 1896 - 17 September 1994)" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 140(4): pp. 581–586
- Benson, Adolph B. and Naboth Hedin, eds. (1938) Swedes in America, 1638-1938 (The Swedish American Tercentenary Association. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press) ISBN 978-0-8383-0326-9
- The Sellin Collection at Penn
- Department of Criminology. University of Pennsylvania
- Johan Thorsten Sellin papers Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania