It is fairly widely accepted that the first true data visualisation was made by the Dutch cartographer, mathematician and engineer Michael van Langren. Langren served as royal mathematician to King Philip IV of Spain, and became interested in one of the most important mathematical problems of the day - how to accurately determine longitude. Being able to determine longitude was hugely important for navigation, especially at sea. There were various methods used at the time but most were known to be estimations at best.
To demonstrate the wide difference in the estimations, in 1644 Langren published a simple, single dimensional chart to demonstrate the significance of the problem to the Spanish court.
|Langren drawing for the Spanish court of 1644|