In 1765 Priestley published A Chart of Biography and then later A New Chart of History in which he wanted to show his students the dependence of events and the distribution into periods and divisions. Today we recognize his work in the different chart types that uses a timeline but it’s not his visualizations he is most famous for. Rather he was an English theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published more than 150 works. He is usually credited for the discovery of oxygen and then later its use to create soda water.
Saving the best for last we have Playfair who is one of the people who have contributed the most to visualization through history and he is credited for inventing the line, area, bar and pie charts. He got his inspiration from Priestley and in 1786 he published the Commercial and Political Atlas which contained 43 time series plots and the first bar chart. Then later in 1801 he published the first pie charts.
What’s really interesting about Playfair is not only that he is credited for inventing those charts that we use in our daily life, but that he is also rumored to have been a scoundrel, an embezzler, a plagiarist and a blackmailer. People describe him as a jack of all trades who during his life had a multitude of occupations, including being a personal assistant to James Watt. It is also rumored that he in 1789 took part in the storming and capture of the Bastille.
How much of this is true? I’m not sure, but if it is then the area of visualization really had an interesting start! Either way I’m really proud of the work from these pioneers and their peers. It’s them I want to celebrate today with my pie (the one you eat…)