A brief history of GIS development

Geographic Information System (GIS) is born out of maps, which are the carriers of geographic information and have the functions of acquiring, storing, editing, processing, analyzing and displaying geographic data. Map is the second generation language of geography, and GIS will become the third generation language of geography. In the early 1960s, a computerized digital map appeared on the basis of computer graphics. In 1950, MIT manufactured the first graphics display for its Cyclone 1 computer; in 1958, an American company developed a drum plotter on the basis of an online digital recorder; in 1962, a graduate student of MIT proposed the term of computer graphics for the first time in his doctoral dissertation, and demonstrated interactive computer graphics, learning is a feasible and useful research field, thus establishing the independent status of this branch of science. On this basis, Geographic Information System (GIS) has developed.

The pioneering stage of development in the 1960s

In the early 1960s, computer technology began to be used for map measurement, analysis, and production, because machine-assisted drawings are fast, inexpensive, flexible, easy to update, easy to operate, reliable, easy to store, measure, classify, merge, and cover, analysis and other advantages quickly developed. In the mid-1960s, due to the need for accelerated growth in planning management and application of natural resources and the environment, the requirements for the improvement of a large number of space environment data storage, analysis and display technology methods, as well as computer technology and its processing in natural resources and environmental data, the rapid development of applications has led to an increasing number of systems for comprehensive analysis and output of maps.

In the mid and late 1960s, many organizations and organizations related to GIS established and carried out their work, for example, the American Association of Urban and Regional Systems (URISA) was established in 1966, the National Association of American State Information Systems (NASIS) was established in 1969, the Inter-agency Committee on Urban Information Systems (UAAC) was established in 1968, and the International Geographic Union (IGU) was established for remote sensing and processing of geographic data, the organizing committee was established in 1968. These organizations and institutions have organized a series of international seminars on geographic information systems.

Initial systems were mainly about cities and land use, such as the Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS), which was established to process the large amount of data obtained from the Canadian Land Survey. The system was developed and implemented by the Canadian government in 1963 and put into operation in 1971, which is considered as the earliest large-scale geographic information system in the world.

Due to the weak function of computer hardware system, the development of software technology is limited. During this period, the development of GIS software was mainly aimed at the specific application of GIS, by the end of the 1960s, the software technology for some specific functions of GIS had made great progress.

Firstly, raster-vector conversion technology, automatic topology coding and topology error detection in polygons have been developed, which opens up a way to process graphics and attribute data separately.

Secondly, the sheet or part of the sheet with attribute data can be automatically stitched with other sheets or parts on the edge, thus forming a larger picture, which enables the minicomputer to process data files with larger spatial range (or sheet) in blocks.

Thirdly, the command language is used to establish the spatial data management system, which can classify attributes, decompose line segments, merge polygons, change scale, measure area, generate graphs and new polygons, search by attributes, output tables and reports, and superimpose polygons.

During this period, the software was mainly developed for the host and peripherals at that time, the algorithm was rough and the graphics function was limited.

Consolidation phase in the 1970s

Since the 1970s, due to the rapid development of computer hardware and software technology, especially the use of hard disk, which is a large-capacity access device, which has provided a powerful means for the input, storage, retrieval and output of spatial data. The development of user screens, graphics and image cards enhances the functions of man-machine dialogue and high-quality graphics display, and promotes the rapid development of GIS towards the direction of use. Some developed countries have successively established many geographic information systems with different themes, scales and types. For example, the U.S. Forest Survey Bureau has developed a unified display system for national forestry resources; the U.S. Geological Survey Institute has developed several geographic information systems for acquiring and processing geological, geographic, topographic and water resources information, the more typical of which is GIRAS; and the Japan Geographic Institute of Territory has established a digital land information system since 1974 to store, process and retrieve survey data and aerial photographs. Information, administrative divisions, land use, topographic and geological information serve national and regional land planning; Sweden has established many information systems at the central, regional and municipal levels, such as regional statistical databases, road databases, land survey information systems, Stockholm Geographic Information System and urban planning information system; France has established geographic numbers. The database GITAN system and deep geophysical information system, etc.

In addition, more and more attention has been paid to the study of GIS based on remote sensing data, such as the possibility of incorporating remote sensing into GIS, the interface problems and the structure and composition of remote sensing-supported information systems, etc. The image information system IBIS (Image Information System), which has the functions of image data processing and geographic information system, was successfully developed by JPL in 1976. Based Information System, which can process Landsat image multispectral data; NASA’s Earth Resources Laboratory developed a geographic information system called ELAS from 1979 to 1980. The system can accept Landsat MSS image data, digital map data, airborne thermal infrared multiband scanner and ocean satellite synthetic aperture radar data, etc. to produce special ground coverage. Title map.

Because of the increasing demand of GIS in this period, many organizations, organizations and companies have carried out the research and development of GIS to promote the development of GIS software. According to the survey of the IGU Subcommittee on Geographic Data Telemetry and Processing in 1976, there are more than 600 software for spatial data processing and more than 80 complete GIS. During this period, digital map input technology has made some progress. It is easy to edit and modify by human-computer interaction, and improves work efficiency. Scanning input technology system appears. The graphics function expansion is not big, and the data management ability is also small. The most important development of software in this period is the development of human-computer graphics interaction technology.

Breakthrough in the 1980s

Due to the development of computer, a new generation of computer, such as graphics workstation and personal computer, has been introduced, computer and spatial information system are widely used in many departments. With the development and popularization of computer software and hardware technology, Geographic Information System (GIS) has gradually become mature. This period is an important period for the development of GIS. The sharp drop in computer prices, the popularity of powerful micro-computer systems and the rapid development of graphic input, output and storage devices have greatly promoted the development of GIS software, and a large number of micro-computer GIS software systems have been developed. Because of the strict restriction of the software environment of micro-computer system, many algorithms and software technologies developed in micro-computer GIS have high efficiency, the software technology of GIS has made great breakthroughs in the following aspects. In data processing of raster scanning input, although the processing of scanned data takes a long time (10:1 compared with the scanning time),which can greatly improve the efficiency of data input. In data storage and operation, with the development of hardware technology, the amount and complexity of data processed by GIS software are greatly increased, and many software technologies are solidified into dedicated processors. In addition, the software of remote sensing image automatic correction, entity recognition, image enhancement and expert system analysis has also increased significantly; in data output, with hardware technology, GIS software can support various forms of map output; in geographic information management, in addition to DBMS technology has developed to support large-scale map database level, specially developed suitable for GIS spatial relations, the spatial database management system for expression and analysis has also developed greatly.

In a word, the development of GIS in this period has the following characteristics:

Firstly, on the basis of technology development in the 1970s, the technology of Geographic Information System (GIS) has been applied in an all-round way.

Secondly, with more countries and regions working and increasing international cooperation, we have begun to explore the establishment of an international geographic information system, which will be promoted from developed countries to developing countries, such as China.

Thirdly, geographic information system technology has entered a variety of disciplines, from a relatively simple, single-function, decentralized system to a multi-functional, shared integrated information system, and to intelligent development,the new GIS will use expert system knowledge for analysis, forecasting and decision making;

Fourthly, Microcomputer Geographic Information System (MGIS) has developed vigorously and been widely used. Geographic information system tools developed under the guidance of geographic information system theory have high efficiency, stronger independence and universality, less dependent on the application domain and computer hardware environment, opening up new avenues for the establishment and application of GIS.

The work on geographic information systems in China began in the early 1980s. In the first GIS research institute established by the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1980, in the initial development stage of several years, China’s geographic information system in theoretical exploration, hardware preparation, software development, norm formulation, local System establishment, preliminary application experiments and technical team training have made progress and accumulated experience, laying a foundation for the development and application of geographic information systems nationwide.

The stage of socialization in the 1990s

In the 1990s, with the establishment of the geographic information industry and the popularity of digital information products around the world, GIS will penetrate into all walks of life and even families, becoming indispensable for people’s production, life, study and work. Tools and assistants. Geographic information systems have become a must-have work system for many organizations. In particular, government decision-making departments have changed the operation mode, settings and work plans of existing organizations to some extent due to the influence of geographic information systems. Moreover, society’s awareness of geographic information systems has generally increased, and demand has increased substantially, leading to the expansion and deepening of the application of geographic information systems. National and even global geographic information systems have become a public concern.

Since the 1990s, China’s Geographic Information System (GIS) has entered a stage of rapid development. The purpose of this paper is to make the geographic information system (GIS) practical and productive from experimentation and partial application in the initial stage of development, and to provide analysis and decision-making basis for major issues of national economy. At the same time, the research and application of Geographic Information System (GIS) is gradually forming an industry, which has the conditions for industrialization.

Table 1-1: Important historical events in the development of GIS since the 1960s


The first successful launch of CORONA by the US Air Force CIA


Roger Tomlinson started development of geographic information systems in Canada


Dr. Edgar Horwood established the Federation of Urban and Regional Information Systems (URISA)


Howard Fisher established Harvard Lab for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis


The SYMAP system was developed at the Northwest Institute of Technology and completed at Harvard Labs.


DIME (Dual Independent Cartographic Code) was developed by the United States Census Bureau.


Jack and Laura Dangermond established the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)


Jim Meadlock founded Integraph


Laser scanner was born in England


Ian McHarg’s influential book “Design With Nature” published


Establishment of Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS)


IBM’s GFIS Publication


Development of GIS (General Information System for Planning)


Landsat satellite successfully launched for the first time


USGS developed a geographic information extraction and analysis system


Development of Maryland Automatic Geographic Information (MAGI)


Established the Experimental Cartography Unit (ECU) at the Royal College of Art in London


The first automatic mapping conference was held in Reston, Virginia.


Minnesota developed the Minnesota Land Management Information System


USGS has developed a digital line graph (DLG) spatial data model


ERDAS establishment


Map overlay compounding and statistical system development


Harvard Graphics Lab developed ODYSSEY GIS




NASA launched Landsat TM4


Establishment of ETAK Digital Cartography Company


Marble, Calkins & Peuquet published Basic Readings in Geographic Information Systems.


First International Conference on Spatial Data Processing


Landsat commercialization


NASA launches Landsat TM5


GPS becomes an operational system


The US Army Construction Engineering Laboratory began to develop GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support Systems)


Establishment of MapInfo


Peter Burrough publishes “Principles of Geographic Information Systems for Land Resources Assessment”


First launch of SPOT satellite


Publication of the International Journal of Geographic Information Systems


Tydac SPANS GIS Publication


Idrisi project started at Corakot University


The United States Census Bureau released TIGER for the first time


New York State University began to develop GIS-L Internet list-server


First release of GIS World


First GIS/LIS Conference Held


Establishment of Regional Research Laboratories in the United Kingdom


Small World was founded


The Geographic Information Systems Consortium (AGI) was established in the United Kingdom.


Stan Arnoff published Geographic Information Systems: a Management Perspective.


Intergraph releases MGE


Maguire, Goodchild and Rhind published “Geographic Information Systems: Principles and Applications”


MAPS ALIVE release


Digital Matrix Systems released the first version of InFoCAD for Windows NT, the first Win NT-based GIS software


OGC formation (David Schell, Ken Gardells, Kurt Buehler, et al)


MapInfo Professional Edition released


NASA launched Landsat TM7