Milestone-Proposal:The First Geographic Information System (GIS) developed in 1962-1968


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Docket #:2020-13

This proposal has been submitted for review.


To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes


Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1962-1968

Title of the proposed milestone:

First Geographic Information System (GIS), 1962-1968

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The first Geographic Information System was developed at the Canadian Department of Forestry and Rural Development in Ottawa. GIS used computer technology to collect, digitize, store, analyze, and visualize Canada Land Inventory information. It subsequently revolutionized science, decision-making, and everyday life worldwide by allowing overlay, measurement, and spatial analysis of geographic data to include information about agriculture, wildlife, forestry, recreation, and transportation.



Justification for inclusion of Dr. Roger Tomlinson's name in the Milestone Plaque Citation:

Dr. Tomlinson has been generally acknowledged as the “father of GIS”, as documented in [9], [14]-[19] and confirmed by the milestone proposal expert reviewers. Recognized as the “father of GIS”, he pioneered GIS worldwide to collect, manage and manipulate geographical data, changing the face of geography as a discipline [citation for being awarded Member of the Order of Canada, 2001]. Dr. Tomlinson’s invention of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has transformed the field of geography [citation for being awarded Officer of the Order of Canada, 2013]. His landmark creation underpins virtually all spatial analysis and in a wide variety of disciplines as diverse as telecommunications, epidemiology and resource management [9].

The innovation envisioned and implemented by Dr. Tomlinson was to convert traditional analog maps and aerial photography into computer data and to treat these as computer data. At the time, there were no records of land use by individual owners and tracking such information was important for the planning of forestry and rural development. The amount of work required for collecting and analyzing this information was immense, manual processing of geographical information was slow, trained geographers were rare, and support manpower was not available at the scale needed. Dr. Tomlinson conceived a feasible approach to solving this large-scale problem by combining land use mapping with emerging computer technology, and implemented it successfully in spite of all obstacles at the time when very few people understood what he was talking about. His contribution to science and society was transformational. For his transformational work Dr. Tomlinson received many awards and honours, which include:

  • Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • Murchison Award by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • James R. Anderson Medal of Honor for Applied Geography by the Association of American Geographers (1995)
  • GIS World Lifetime Achievement Award (1996)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Economic and Social Research Institute (1997)
  • Member of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada (2003)
  • GISP Certificate for Lifetime GIS Achievement by the GIS Certification Institute (2004)
  • Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award (2005) by American Association of Geographers
  • Inducted into the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) GIS Hall of Fame (2010) and awarded lifetime membership
  • Alexander Graham Bell Medal by the National Geographic Society (2010)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (2010)
  • Honorary Membership in the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (2011)
  • Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada (2013)
  • Fellow of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (2013)
  • Fellow of University College London
  • Honorary Doctorates of Science from the University of Nottingham, Acadia University, McGill University, and the University of Lethbridge


The above provides the full justification for including the name of Dr. Tomlinson in the milestone citation and plaque, and, together with the provided references and expert reviews, it shows that his name is the only name that should appear in this milestone’s citation and plaque.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Ottawa Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Ottawa Section
Senior Officer Name: Winnie Ye, Section Chair

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Ottawa Section
Senior Officer Name: Winnie Ye, Section Chair

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Ottawa Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Winnie Ye, Section Chair

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Branislav Djokic, IEEE Canada History Committee Chair
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

50 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1M 2K1, Canada, 45.442222 N, 75.695278 W

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The intended site is the home of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Dr. Tomlinson was an Honorary Fellow and a recipient of the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Are the original buildings extant?

The Canadian Department of Forestry and Rural Development has not been in existence for decades. The exact building is unknown.

Details of the plaque mounting:

The plaque will be mounted on a stand in the area in front of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society building, in the vicinity of other historical exhibits.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The site is in front of the RCGS building, is accessible to the general public and is commonly frequented by visitors in all seasons of the year. The site is protected/secured as a public park with monuments and other exhibits. Casual visitors can view the plaques without requiring a security badge.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

The scientific significance of the work has been in conceiving, developing and implementing a unified system for the collection, extraction, analysis and understanding of geographical information. The existing geographical information was not centralized, sufficiently systematized, stored uniformly or easily made available. Geographic research by the academic community was in its infancy regarding the identification of key science topics, quantification of information, spatial analysis and visualization. The innovation envisioned and implemented by Dr. Tomlinson was to convert traditional analog maps and aerial photography into computer data and to treat these as computer data. The technological significance is in discovering how to harness the emerging computer technology relying on mainframe computers of the time, developing new concepts for digitizing maps and implementing them in practice with the available technical means, and then developing software for data processing, mining and analysis. The social importance of the work performed first became obvious in the management of forests, wildlife, agriculture, and rural development. Subsequently, it spread to urban planning, transportation (navigation by land, sea and air), tourism and recreation (exploring and locating hotels, restaurants, local attractions, sports facilities, hospitals) and almost all areas of everyday life (stores, schools, various institutions and other points of interest). GIS is today practically everywhere - and expanding further.

Most recently, in response to COVID-19, numerous GIS applications have been developed for showing the virus locations, for understanding paths and patterns of its spread, and for directing aid to those who need it most. Another class of GIS applications has been developed for helping recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic, clearly demonstrating the power of interconnected GIS systems (as shown in a brief video at the Economic and Social Research Institute website: https://www.esri.com/videos).

The ever expanding use of GIS raises questions as to who owns and controls the GIS data as well as about the ethical collecting and using of the data. A call for a wider community participation in the establishment and operation of GIS in areas concerning minority groups and/or issues with sensitive cultural and social implications has been referred to as participatory GIS, P-GIS.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

In the mid-20th century in Canada, as in many other countries, there were no records of land use by individual owners. The government recognized the need for tracking such information for the planning of forestry and rural development. The amount of work required for collecting and analyzing this information was immense, manual processing of geographical information was slow, trained geographers were rare, and support manpower was not available at the scale needed. Concepts of quantitative geography appeared with the increase of computational means. Early computers offered a possibility to capture and analyze geographic data in terms of their spatial distribution. However, there were no other systems previously developed and there was no software for that purpose commercially available. The aerial survey and mapping for military and civilian use led to the appearance of computer mapping. With a solid education in geography, Dr. Tomlinson had an ideal background for understanding the problem. He earned his undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Nottingham and another undergraduate degree in geology from Acadia University, where he later worked as an Assistant Professor. Then he received a master's degree in geography from McGill University. After that, he worked as the Manager of the Computer Mapping Division at Spartan Air Services in Ottawa, Ontario. With his experience in academia and industry, Dr. Tomlinson conceived a feasible approach to solving this large-scale problem by combining land use mapping with emerging computer technology, and implemented it successfully in spite of all obstacles at the time when very few people understood what he was talking about.

Geographic obstacles he encountered were reflected in the sheer size and variety of landscapes in Canada, as well as its diversity of cultures and languages. As for political obstacles, Dr. Tomlinson used computers to merge natural resource data from all Provinces in Canada, which are empowered with the management of Provincial Crown lands and the regulation of activities such as mining and lumbering on them. He designed the automated storage and processing of large amounts of data. This allowed Canada to begin its national land-use management program. Later on, Dr. Tomlinson served as a Director of Regional Planning Systems with the Department of Forestry and Rural Development of the Canadian government.

Digital transformation of Canada and other countries and its expected beneficial impacts on the society and economy would not be possible without GIS as an integral part of the transformation effort. GIS is estimated now to be a global industry valued at over $270 billion annually [15].

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Dr. Roger Tomlinson was commissioned by the Canada Land Inventory to create a manageable inventory of Canadian natural resources. At that time, there had been no other similar work done before that he could use as an example. This was a pioneering work that included initiating, planning, developing and overseeing the Canada Geographic Information System (GIS). Dr. Tomlinson presented his views on computer mapping and the use of computers for storage, compilation and assessment of data for the evaluation of marginal lands at a seminar organized by the government of Canada in 1962 [1]. In his feasibility study [2] in 1963, he outlined the work on GIS for the Government of Canada. He created the world's first GIS with automated computing, and worked on its development until full-fledged operation, in the period of 1963 to 1968, as documented in [3]-[4], his Ph.D. Thesis [5], and his subsequent publications [6]-[8], [11], [13]. He coined the term Geographic Information System in his 1968 paper [4].

His work and implementation of a wide range of functionality features in the newly created GIS set a standard for development of other GIS systems which followed elsewhere. The computer-based system he developed included the capability of accepting location-specific geographic data of various formats. The land data types that the Canada Land Inventory started collecting in 1962 was restricted to the present use of the land, as well as the capability of the land for agriculture, forestry, recreation, and supporting wildlife [3]-[4]. A data bank was created with procedures and methods for moving data into the bank and for manipulating the data in the bank. The system provided the output in alphanumeric or graphic forms. The system also had capabilities of compacting and storing the map and other related data in forms suitable for search, retrieval and processing of large amounts of data, of variety of rapid measurements and comparison of the data, and a subsequent data analysis.

The experience gained and lessons learned from the first GIS paved the way for other developments. For example, computer mapping software programs were developed first in the academic community and then commercially, research center for spatial analysis and visualization were formed at Universities, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri) was founded in US, which applied computer mapping and spatial analysis to help planners and land resource managers in making informed decisions [21].

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Dr. Roger F. Tomlinson (1933 – 2014) was a Canadian geographer who originated modern computer-based geographic information systems (GIS), which transformed the field of geography and are now pervasive in many scientific fields and everyday life. He conceived and developed the world's first Geographic Information System (GIS) for the use of the Canada Land Inventory [9]. He has been generally acknowledged as the “father of GIS.” [9], [14]-[19], and he pioneered its uses worldwide to collect, manage and manipulate geographical data, changing the face of geography as a discipline [9]. His landmark creation underpins virtually all spatial analysis and in a wide variety of disciplines as diverse as telecommunications, epidemiology and resource management [9].

Dr. Tomlinson presented his views on computer mapping and the use of computers for storage, compilation and assessment of data for the evaluation of marginal lands in 1962 [2] and outlined his vision of the GIS for the Government of Canada in 1963 [2]. He created the world's first GIS with automated computing, and worked on its development until full-fledged operation, between 1963 and 1968, as documented in [3]-[4], his Ph.D. Thesis [5], and his subsequent publications [6]-[8], [11], [13]. He coined the term Geographic Information System in his 1968 paper [4]. His pioneering work included initiating, planning, developing and overseeing the Canada Geographic Information System (GIS) for the Canada Land Inventory.

The citations in Dr. Tomlinson's Order of Canada bestowed upon him by The Governor General of Canada, summarize well his achievements and their merit at the national and international levels:

Member of the Order of Canada, Awarded on: May 30, 2001, Invested on: February 22, 2002 He is a visionary geographer who conceived and developed the world's first Geographic Information System (GIS) for the use of the Canada Land Inventory. Recognized as the "father of GIS", he pioneered its uses worldwide to collect, manage and manipulate geographical data, changing the face of geography as a discipline. His work established Canada's reputation for excellence in the emerging and continually expanding field of geo-spatial analysis. Governments and scientists around the world have turned to him to better understand our environment and changing patterns of land use, to better manage urban development and our precious natural resources.

Officer of the Order of Canada, Awarded on: May 2, 2013, Invested on: November 22, 2013 Roger Tomlinson’s invention of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has transformed the field of geography. In the 1960’s he designed an electronic system to store, manipulate and display geographic data. Today, his landmark creation underpins virtually all spatial analysis and has enabled new questions to be asked in a wide variety of disciplines as diverse as telecommunications, epidemiology and resource management. He continues to be an ambassador for Canadian geographic science, guiding the implementation of GIS through international workshops, conferences and consultations.

Dr. Tomlinson received many awards and honours for his works, a list of which includes:

  • Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • Murchison Award by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS)
  • James R. Anderson Medal of Honor for Applied Geography by the Association of American Geographers (1995)
  • GIS World Lifetime Achievement Award (1996)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Economic and Social Research Institute (1997)
  • Member of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada (2001)
  • GISP Certificate for Lifetime GIS Achievement by the GIS Certification Institute (2004)
  • Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award by American Association of Geographers (2005)
  • Inducted into the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) GIS Hall of Fame (2010) and awarded lifetime membership
  • Alexander Graham Bell Medal by the National Geographic Society (2010)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (2010)
  • Honorary Membership in the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (2011)
  • Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada (2013)
  • Fellow of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (2013)
  • Fellow of University College London
  • Honorary Doctorates of Science from the University of Nottingham, Acadia University, McGill University, and the University of Lethbridge


References

[1] R. F. Tomlinson, “Computer Mapping: An Introduction to the Use of Electronic Computers in the Storage, Compilation and Assessment of Natural and Economic Data for the Evaluation of Marginal Lands”, National Land Capability Inventory Seminar, Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Administration of the Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, p. 9, Nov. 29-30, 1962. [Google Scholar: Citations 19]

[2] R. F. Tomlinson, “Feasibility Report of Computer Mapping”, prepared by Spartan Air Services for Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Administration, Department of Agriculture, Government of Canada, Project 14007, Ottawa, p. 37, 1963. [Google Scholar: Citations 6]

[3] R. F. Tomlinson, “An Introduction to the Geo-Information System of the Canada Land Inventory”, Canada Department of Forestry and Rural Development, Ministry of Forestry and Rural Development, Ottawa, p. 23, 1967. [Google Scholar: Citations 58]

[4] R. F. Tomlinson, “A Geographic Information System for Regional Planning”, pp. 200-210, Department of Forestry and Rural Development, Government of Canada, Ottawa, Aug. 1968. [Google Scholar: Citations 125]

[5] R. F. Tomlinson, “The application of electronic computing methods and techniques to the storage, compilation, and assessment of mapped data”, Ph.D. Thesis, University College London, University of London, UK, p. 457, July 1974. [Google Scholar: Citations 6]

[6] R. F. Tomlinson, “Geographic information systems - a new frontier”, in Proceedings of the International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling 2: pp. 1-14, Zurich, Switzerland, August 20- 24, 1984. [Google Scholar: Citations 146]

[7] R. F. Tomlinson, “Presidential Address: Geographic information systems and geographers in the 1990s”, Canadian Geographer, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 290-298, Dec 1, 1989. Available on-line at https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1541-0064.1989.tb00916.x [Google Scholar: Citations 24]

[8] R. Tomlinson, “The Canada Geographic Information System”, Chapter 2, pp. 21-32, in the book “The History of Geographic Information Systems: Perspectives from the Pioneers”, Edited by T. W. Foresman, Prentice Hall PTR, Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458, ISBN-13: 978-0138621452, p. 397, 1997. [Google Scholar: Book Citations 344]

[9] Citation for Dr. R. F. Tomlinson's Award of the Order of Canada, available on-line at the Governor General of Canada Honours website https://www.gg.ca/en/honours/recipients/146-7529, 2001, 2013.

[10] M. G. Wing and P. Bettinger, “GIS: An Updated Primer on a Powerful Management Tool”, Journal of Forestry, pp. 4-8, June 2003. [Google Scholar: Citations 31]

[11] R. Tomlinson, “Origins of the Canada Geographic Information System”, ArcNews, Fall 2012, https://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/fall12articles/origins-of-the-canada accessed on 01/06/2020. [Google Scholar: Citations 7]

[12] “The 50th Anniversary of GIS”, ArcNews, Fall 2012, available on-line at https://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/fall12articles/the-fiftieth-anniversary-of-gis.html

[13] R. F. Tomlinson, “Thinking about GIS: Geographical Information System Planning for Managers”, Esri Press; Fifth edition, ISBN-13: 978-1589483484, p. 280, 2013. [Google Scholar: Book Citations 482]

[14] Jessica Camille Aguirre, “The Unlikely History of the Origins of Modern Maps”, Smithsonian Magazine, June 2, 2014, Available on-line at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/unlikely-history-origins-modern-maps-180951617/

[15] Caitlin Dempsey, “Who is the Father of GIS?”, Spatial Analysis, December 17, 2015, Available on-line at https://www.gislounge.com/father-of-gis/

[16] “Roger Tomlinson”, Wikipedia, Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Tomlinson

[17] “Roger Tomlinson”, Wiki.GIS.com - The GIS Encyclopedia, dedicated to geographic information systems (GIS), Available on-line at http://wiki.gis.com/wiki/index.php/Roger_Tomlinson

[18] “Roger Tomlinson”, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, Available at https://web.archive.org/web/20151217012639/http://ucgis.org/ucgis-fellow/roger-tomlinson

[19] “Geographic information system”, Wikipedia, Available on-line at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_information_system

[20] Esri Canada Honours the Life and Legacy of Dr. Roger Tomlinson, Available on-line at https://youtu.be/7vzHDvhLb2w

[21] “History of GIS”, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri), Available on-line at https://www.esri.com/en-us/what-is-gis/history-of-gis

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to ieee-history@ieee.org. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.


Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to ieee-history@ieee.org with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).