Scottish engineer William Playfair was the first to start designing charts in ways that illustrate clear visual patterns, rather than mere rows and columns:
In the decades after Playfair, Europe came alive with infographic innovation. In 1826, Charles Dupin created a so-called “thematic map” using shading to show the varying levels of illiteracy across France. The German geographer Heinrich Berghaus made this technique famous in the mid-nineteenth century with dozens of works depicting the planet’s climate, animal life, and anthropology. Later in the century, Charles Booth published a map that showed the stunning extent of poverty in London, helping to promote social reforms. Even Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, invented a new kind of chart to show seasonal changes in casualties during the Crimean War. Called a polar-area chart, it’s still used today.
(Image: William Playfair’s trade-balance time-series chart, published in his Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786, via Wikimedia Commons)