Before the 18th century, there are very few instances of people using a chart or graph to convey data. I’m not talking about charts such as maps, but instead that subsection of visual data presentation that you’d see nowadays in boardrooms sitting on an easel; line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, diagrams. What we also refer to as Information Displays, Data Graphing, or Infographics.
But there are a few earlier instances where someone stumbled across the value of such methods. In the 10th (or possibly 11th) century, an anonymous line chart of planetary movement was included in an addendum to a 5th century manuscript of Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis. And later, in the 14th century, Nicolas Oreses used something resembling a bar graph to show the velocity of a moving object, in a 300-year head start on graphing Newton’s Laws.
But the real value of graphing data visually seems to be discovered in the 18th century by Joseph Priestley, a scientist and lecturer, writer of 150 books, member of the Lunar Society, and discoverer of Oxygen. Priestley’s most popular charts are made to support his teachings, such as his New Chart of History, which he created in 1769 with the purpose of “impressing the imagination indelibly with a just image of the rise, progress, extent, duration, and contemporary state of all the considerable empires that have ever existed in the world”