In 1969, Esri president Jack Dangermond and his wife, Laura, founded Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri), in Redlands, California.
Esri's early mission was to organize and analyze geographic information to help land planners and land resource managers make well-informed environmental decisions. These studies resulted in maps that showed constraints and opportunities for development.
In the mid-1970s, San Diego County, California, selected Esri to develop a polygon information overlay system (PIOS), which became the company's first foray into creating a geographic information system (GIS).
A global company from the beginning, Esri began developing relationships with like-minded companies in Germany, Japan, Australia, and Canada, forming the foundation of today's large international network of distributors.
From Projects to Products
To perform projects more effectively, Esri needed a way to automate manual mapping processes.
Esri developers began formulating concepts that ultimately led to the release in 1982 of ARC/INFO, the first commercial GIS. It combined computer display of geographic features, such as points, lines, and polygons, with a database management system for assigning attributes to these features.
With software products came software users and the beginning of a community. The first Esri International User Conference was held in 1981 with 16 attendees. It has grown substantially over the years, today attracting more than 14,000 attendees.
GIS Goes Mainstream
Esri began building relationships with organizations that wished to build applications on top of Esri software or support the software in niche industries. Today, over 1,600 organizations belong to the Esri Partner Network.
Esri's growth led to additional offices to provide local support. Olympia, Washington, and Charlotte, North Carolina, were the first cities to house an Esri office, followed quickly by eight more locations.
In the 1990s, developments such as faster and cheaper computers, network processing, electronic data publishing, and new data capture techniques such as GPS spurred rapid growth at Esri. Esri's first desktop solution, ArcView, opened up the possibilities of GIS to a whole new group of users.
As the number of users grew, Esri began developing educational programs. Esri increased its support for GIS education in schools and expanded its own training programs and facilities. Esri Press was launched, which now has nearly 100 titles.
During the late 1990s, Esri reengineered ARC/INFO to develop a modular and scalable GIS platform that would work both on the desktop and across the enterprise. The result was ArcGIS.
With continued growth, the GIS community needed a way to increase awareness of GIS. Prompted by an idea from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Esri launched GIS Day in 1999 in collaboration with the National Geographic Society.
Following the devastating attacks on 9/11, Esri aided recovery efforts in New York City and at the Pentagon. Over the years, Esri has developed disaster management capabilities to support those affected by wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
In 2004, Esri released ArcGIS 9, which enhanced the desktop platform and added a development framework and server platform. The Esri Developer Network was created to provide resources to the growing community of people who embraced the new developer framework.
Not Just for Professionals Anymore
Esri strived to make GIS more accessible by introducing ArcGIS Explorer, a free tool for viewing and sharing geospatial information. Other free viewers followed, including applications for smartphones.
In 2010, the release of ArcGIS 10 marked a big step forward in helping GIS software users become more productive right away. Esri also increased its support for users to access and share imagery.
Community has always been important to Esri. The Community Maps program was initiated to help organizations contribute to and benefit from detailed common basemaps. The maps are provided as a map service, one of many services available via ArcGIS Online.