Cartography and GIS

Part 1 : Digital Cartography

Nothing fun here but a short history of the Computer-aided Cartography and Geographic Information Systems illustrated with the first commercial and non-commercial cartography and mapping softwares. The sources of informations are mainly the books or articles listed in the bibliography. All the non-cited sources comes from the Wikipedia.

World Data Bank II (1977)

The CIA World Data Bank II is a collection of world map data, consisting of vector descriptions of land outlines, rivers, and political boundaries. The dataset was digitized between 1972 and 1977 by the US Department of State's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

GEODAT (1983)

Petroconsultants was a major producer of maps for the oil industry founded in Geneva in 1968. They initiated the first commercial global digital map project, GEODAT in 1980. The First data delivery was in June 1983. The project software was written in FORTRAN for a PDP-11 mini-computer and used on a DEC VAX 11/780 (3). The Geodat project drew heavily on the experience of the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis.

MundoCart (1985)

The Geodat project (by Petroconsultants) produced a complete digital map of the world at a scale of 1:1,000,000, MundoCart, in 1985. MundoCart provided numerous commercial and academic Geographic Information Systems (GIS) users with their first complete vector map of the world. The data was sold, along with a complete set of FORTRAN mapping software. Originally delivered as five large tapes, MundoCart was burned on CD-ROM in 1987.


PC Globe and World Atlas (1989)

In 1989 PC Globe Inc. released PC USA and PC Globe. PC Globe is an "electronic atlas" of the world. It features continent and country maps showing world organizations, cities, elevations and other geographic features (lakes, rivers, mountains, etc.) and statistical data for all countries. World Atlas, edited by Electromap Inc. shows practicaly the same features.

World Vector Shore Line (1991)

The World Vector Shoreline (WVS) is a digital data file at a nominal scale of 1:250,000, containing the shorelines, international boundaries and country names of the world. The World Vector Shoreline is a standard US Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) product that has been designed for use in many applications.

The Digital Chart of the World (1993)

The Digital Chart of the World (DCW) is an Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) product originally developed for the US Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) using DMA data.

Microsoft Encarta (1993)

Microsoft Encarta was a digital multimedia encyclopedia published by Microsoft from 1993 to 2009. In 2000, Microsoft MapPoint was embedded within Encarta, and allowed users to interact with a virtual globe that could be zoomed and rotated freely to zoom in to street level in metropolitan cities.


Google Maps (2004)

Google Maps first started as a C++ program designed by two Danish brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen at the Sydney-based company Where 2 Technologies. It was first designed to be separately downloaded by users, but the company later pitched the idea for a purely Web-based product to Google management, changing the method of distribution. In October 2004, the company was acquired by Google where it transformed into the web application Google Maps.

Part 2 : Geographic Information System (GIS)

The history of the GIS start in the early 1960s in Canada (Dept. of Forestry and Rural Development) and in the USA (Harvard and Illinois universities). The site GIS TiME LiNE shows an interresting timeline of the GIS from the 1960s to the present time. Here is an short resumed chronology:

1962 The Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS) project started with the Canada Land Inventory (CLI)
1964 SYMAP (Synagraphic Mapping System) development beginning at Harvard
1965 Department of Geography at the University of Illinois's first definition of GIS
1969 ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is founded
1970 New York City initiated the development of GIST
1974 The first comprehensive geographic data management, the Oak Ridge Regional Modeling Information System (ORRMIS), is developped by the ORNL
1979 ODYSSEY was the first ever vector GIS
1979 MOSS (Map Overlay and Statistical System) developed by the U.S. Department of Interior on a CDC mainframe computer
1982 ARC/INFO is released
1985 GRASS (Geographic Resource Analysis Support Software), the open-source GIS, is released
1986 MapInfo is founded. Advertised in 1988 in the BYTE magazine
1991 ArcView 1.0 is released


Prototype softwares

Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis (1963-1991)

The Harvard's Laboratory initially focused on improving and selling SYMAP (Synagraphic Mapping System), a raster-based GIS wich development started in 1964, could produce conformant, proximal, and contour maps on a line printer and be used for a variety of projects, such as air pollution studies (2).

SYMAP screen capture (source:2)

Developped by the mid 70's, ODYSSEY was the first ever vector GIS and became a prototype for modern GIS software. In 1979 ODYSSEY entered the commercial market under the name LAB-LOG (1).

ODYSSEY screen capture (source:2)

Jack Dangermond (later Esri founder) and Michael Mainelli (later leader of the GEODAT project) have been researcher at the Lab.

First applications: one example

New Yorks City's Geographic Information System GIST (1970)

In 1970, New York City initiated the development of GIST (New Yorks City's Geographic Information System). The database ran on an IBM 360 system (6). The thematic map were generated using Symap and then printed.

Example of GIST printer output (source:6)

General evolution of GIS

GIS evolution from past to present

Genealogy of geoprocessing in the USA (adapted from Cook, 1988) (source:4)


The company was founded as Environmental Systems Research Institute in 1969 as a land-use consulting firm.


The first version of ARC/INFO was launched in 1982 on minicomputers, as ESRI claims, the very first modern GIS. The name refers to its architecture as a Geographic Information System composed of (a) geographic input, processing, and output tools ("ARC") with (b) a complementary, but separate database ("INFO"). The early releases of ARC/INFO were a set of FORTRAN programs linked accessed through a command-line interface built with the scripting language of the minicomputer (CPL on PRIMOS, DCL on VMS, etc.)


ArcView is the entry level licensing level of ArcGIS Desktop, a geographic information system software product produced by Esri. The table below shows the major releases of Esri's products.

Year Link
1982 info
DOS/Windows 95/98/2000/NT
Windows NT, UNIX, Digital UNIX, HP-UX, IBM RISC/6000, DG/UX, DEC Alpha NT, SUN Solaris
ArcInfo 8
Windows NT/XP/2000, Unix, SUN Solaris, HP, IBM
ArcView 1.0
1992 advert
Windows 3.0
ArcView 2.0
1994 advert
Windows 3.1/95, UNIX, and Mac OS 9
ArcView 3.0
1995 advert
Windows, Solaris, AIX, IRIX, Digital UNIX,
ArcGIS 8.0
Windows 2000/NT4, Solaris
ArcGIS 9.0
Windows 2000/XP/Server 2003
ArcGIS 10.0
Windows XP/Server 2003-2008/7, Solaris 10

Screen captures from version 1.0 to 8.0

ArcView 1.0

ArcView 1.0 / Windows 3.1 (video capture

ArcView 2.0

ArcView 3.0

ArcView 8.0

ESRI softwares
(epocalc collection)

PC Arc/Info 3.4D (1990)
18 disks 3.5''
PC Arc/Info 3.4.2
5 disks 3.5''
ArcView 1.0 (1992)
5 disks 5.25''
ArcView 1.0a (1992)
1 disk 3.5''  
Arcview 2.0 (1994)
1 CD, 136 Mb
Arcview 2.1 (1995)
1 CD, 105 Mb  
ArcView 3.0
2 CD
ArcView 3.2
2 CD  
ArcGIS 8 (1999)
39 CD  

Consulted bibliography

Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System, 1963
An introduction to the Geo-information system of the Canada Land Inventory, R. Tomlinson, 1967
An Introduction to GIST - Newy York City's Geographic Information System, 5/1971 (6)
Computers and Cartography, Computers and Automation, 8/1972
Computer-Aided Cartography, Contemporary Cartography, The Royal Geographical Society, 1977
Geographic Information Systems: A review, Oregon State University, 1978
Computer Generated Maps, Byte, 5/1979
GEODAT: A Cartographic Data Base for Petroleum Mapping, M. Mainelli, 1982 (3)
A Survey of Geographic Information Systems, The America Farmland Trust, 1985
The History of GIS, 1991 (4)
Desktop Mapping Softwares, BYTE, 1993
Analytical and Computer Cartography, 1995
ORNL and the Geographic Information Systems Revolution, ORNL, 1995 (5)
The History of Geographical Information Systems: perpectives from the pioneers, 1997
The Engineering Design Revolution, 2008
GRASS Roots, James Westervelt, Construction Engineering Research Laborator, 2004
Charting the Unknown: How Computer Mapping at Harvard Became GIS, ESRI, 2006 (2)
History of the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics, Université de Laval
Multimedia Cartography, Springer, 2007
The Engineering Design Revolution, 2008
Milestones in the history of thematic cartography, statistical graphics, and data visualization, 2009
Stratified, Destratified, and Hybrid GIS: Organizing a Cross-Disciplinary for Design, MIT thesis, 2013 (1)

(c) epocalc 2014