GIS Timeline

Caitlin Dempsey


The early beginnings of GIS occurred in Canada in the 1960s.  Roger Tomlinson (1933-2014), commonly referred to as the father of GIS, introduced the concept of geographic information systems to the Canada Land Inventory (CLI) in 1962.  Tomlinson was a pioneer in the field of GIS, stating,  “The early days of GIS were very lonely.  No-one knew what it meant. My work has certainly been missionary work of the hardest kind.”

GIS has come a long ways since its early beginnings.  GIS software is no longer the domain of specialists and crowdsourced geographic data is now commonplace with such popular efforts as OpenStreetMap and Waze.

GIS Timeline

Click on any of the tabs in the timeline below to see more information about that GIS event.  You can also pan and scroll through the timeline with your cursor. (Related: History of Geography Timeline)

You can contribute to this GIS timeline by submitting significant GIS events and advances.

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About This GIS Timeline

This page seeks to document the significant milestones that have occurred since the early 1960s to advance GIS and geospatial technologies.

Events that don’t have a specific date where only the year is known have been entered with a month and day of January first.  Events where only the month and year are known, have a date entered with the first of the month.

This list is very much a work in progress; to propose an event or achievement for consideration on this list, fill out the form shown beneath the timeline.  If you have supplemental information or media (videos, screenshots, images, etc.) that could improve an existing entry, please send an email to

Also visit the History of GIS page for a generalized history.  For historical cartography and mapping see Mapping Through the Ages.

Add a GIS Timeline Event

To add a GIS timeline event, visit the GIS history submission page.

Milestones in Cartography and Data Visualization

Michael Friendly and Daniel J. Denis, who are both Psychology Professors (Friendly at York University in Ontario, Canada and Denis at The University of Montana), have put together a comprehensive timeline showing “Milestones in the history of thematic cartography, statistical graphics, and data visualization.”

The dynamic timeline categorizes significant events and achievements as cartography, technology or statistics and graphics.  Each milestone is clickable with a summary and a link to further information. The timeline can be dragged left and right to either go back in time or forward.

Milestones in the History of Thematic Cartography, Statistical Graphics, and Data Visualization_1254716930163

National Academy Press
Timeline of significant past events and forces in GIS. From The Future of Spatial Data and Society (1997).

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.