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HomeCAD History

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FreeCAD / CAD History


Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty (most often referred to as "the father of CAD CAM") developed PRONTO – the first commercial numerical control programming CAM system.


Stromberk Carlson developed a system which interpreted graphics on some kind of tape and output these graphics on screen or printout graphics on special papers.


John McCarthy invented the LISP (programming language used in AutoCAD® until now)


Ivan Sutherland (MIT‘s Lincoln Laboratory) developed the program named SKETCHPAD on the TX-2 computer and demonstrated the basic principles feasibility of computer aided engineering drawing. This is considered to be the first step to CAD industry. But still it was not commercial product yet.

Georg Nemetschek founded his company as a civil engineering office in this year. 20 years later it started to produce well-known AEC system named Allplan.


ITEK company developed CAD software research system named "The Electronic Drafting Machine" for PDP-1 computer. Input commands were done with an electronic light pen and a large disk memory device used to refresh the graphic display.

Consequently - Digigraphics division of Control Data Corporation released the first commercially available CAD software system - which was a successor to ITEK's earlier CAD software. It was priced at $500,000 per unit (only a very few units were ever sold).

Dr. Hanratty co-designed CAD system, named DAC (Design Automated by Computer) at General Motors Research Laboratories. It was the first CAD/CAM system using interactive graphics (enabled to type car description, rotation, and viewing from different angles). Although DAC was said to be incredibly useful at its time, GM discarded the system when it upgraded its hardware..


The Lockheed Corporation introduced its CAD/CAM system, and FEM system named CADAM (Computer Augmented Drafting and Manufacturing).


McDonnell Douglas Automation Company (McAuto) introduced its patented CAD program named CADD - originally developed for solving different geometry problems. The program only ran on very expensive IBM mainframe computers.


Ford Corporation introduced its CAD named PDGS


Georg Nemetschek company started to develop software, initially only for in-house use


More companies introduced their first commercial CADs at the end of the 60s. It is necessary to mention at least Applicon, Auto-trol, Computervision (sold its first commercial CAD system to Xerox), Evans & Sutherland, MAGI (released commercial 3D CAD Syntha Vision), McAuto, SDRC and United Computing (nowadays known as UGS).


M&S Computing was founded (later becomes Intergraph) – At the beginning it was a consulting firm that supported government agencies in using digital technology.


The first 3D solid modeling program SynthaVision from MAGI (Mathematics Application Group, Inc.) was released - not as CAD software but as a program for performing 3D analysis of nuclear radiation exposure. 3D models in this system were solid models similar to models used by later 3D CAD software.

MCS company released its first CAD named ADAM (Automated Drafting and Machining), it ran on 16-bit computers, and it was one of the first commercially available mechanical design packages. The user interface of ADAM was already controlled by menu.


United Computing introduced UNI-GRAPHICS system. It provided basic 2D modeling & drafting functionality and supported 14 layers.

The Hillman Trust purchased Auto-tro and announced Auto-Draft, one of the first turnkey graphic systems available.


The French aerospace company, Avions Marcel Dassault (AMD), purchased a source-code license of CADAM from Lockheed and three years later began developing a 3D CAD software program named CATIA (Computer Aided Three Dimensional Interactive Application).


MCS introduced AD-2000, a design and manufacturing system for the first 32-bit computers. This CAD was the direct successor of the ADAM

United Computing, and their UNI-GRAPHICS was acquired by McDonnell Douglas (McAuto).


Nemetschek started selling its ''Programm system Statik 97/77'' for civil engeneering.

Avions Marcel Dassault started developing the forerunner of CATIA named CATI. Its major advance over CADAM was real approach to 3D modelling.


Herb Voelcker developed solid modeler named PADL (Part and Assembly Description Language), which was subsequently used in several commercial 3D solid modeling CAD software programs.

McAuto released Unigraphic R1 ("R" means Restructured)

T&W Systems released CAD named T-Square


Boeing, General Electric a NIST began to develop a neutral file format called IGES (Initial Graphic Exchange Standard)

Cymap, an English company, started developing HVAC and Electrical drawings software. Their major product will be CADLink.

M&S Computing (nowadays known as Intergraph) developed the first interactive CAD product IGDS (Interactive Graphics Design Software)

At the end of the 70s a typical CAD system was a 16-bit minicomputer with maximum of 512 Kb memory and 20 to 300 Mb disk storage. This decade was the time when the basic CAD features were formed – especially the fundamental geometric algorithms. The computer's price was about $125,000, and the first commercial CAD systems resellers started to be formed.


T&W Systems released Versa CAD

M&S Computing renamed itself to Intergraph


Unigraphics introduced its solid modeling system, UniSolids. It was based on PADL-2 solid modeling kernel

Avions Marcel Dassault (AMD) established its Dassault Systemes subsidiary and announced CATIA Version 1 – the product for 3D design, surface modeling and NC programming

The Nemetschek Programmsystem GmbH company was founded.


A company called P-CAD released a CAD program called CADplan. Later the product was purchased by CalComp and renamed to CADVANCE

T&W Systems reprogrammed its software named T-Square for the Apple II computer and introduced it as CADapple

SDRC company announced the first I-DEAS

Autodesk (initially called Marin Software Partners) was founded by sixteen people in this year by initiative of computer programmer John Walker. The main idea was to create a CAD program for a price of $1000 able to run on PC. One of the objectives was to create a CAD system as open as possible. The first version of AutoCAD was based on a CAD program written in 1981 by Mike Riddle called MicroCAD.

AutoCAD-80 (respectively AutoCAD 1 for PC) was demonstrated for the public in November at the COMDEX trade show for the first time.

At this time DWG and DXF formats were also defined!


Unigraphics was basically still the original MCS ADAM software, although significantly revised by United Computing and subsequently by McAuto. The new software (substantially a new product) after a complete re-architecting was named as Unigraphics II version 1 - and earlier software was now called Unigraphics I.

Adra Systems was founded and soon after that it began releasing its CADRA 2D CAD

Jon Hirschstick (who later started SolidWorks) founded a company called Premise. Their first product was DesignView - simple parametric 2D tool.

T&W Systems noticed that its SW CADapple had greater functionality than did AutoCAD at that point in time. They re-made it to a PC platform and named it as VersaCAD

The work started for a new reliable and universal system of transferring data called STEP (Standard for the Exchange of Product model data).  The first generally available STEP translator was released in 1991 by EDS Unigraphics


CATIA Version 2 was released and became the aeronautical application leader.

Radar CH (ArchiCAD’s predecessor) for Apple was released.


Matra Datavision company (founded in 1980), released its Euclid-IS solid modeling 3D CAD software which used a unique hybrid models.

Parametric Technology Corporation (known as PTC) was founded by Dr. Samuel P. Geisberg. From the beginning, the PTC was only 3D CAD systems reseller. Before that - Dr. Samuel P. Geisberg had worked for Computervision and also for Applicon.

Diehl Graphsoft was founded and released MiniCAD which rapidly became the best selling CAD software on the MAC.

Keith Bentley founded Bentley Systems, Inc. and the first version of Microstation was released. At the beginning MicroStation was a clone of another CAD package -  originally named PseudoStation. After Intergraph purchased 50% of Bentley Systems (in 1987) - the original  IDGS file format was renamed to DNG.

AutoCAD version 2.1 with first 3D capabilities and also the first version of AutoSketch were released. 


American Small Business Company released DesignCAD

T&W Systems changed its name to Versacad Corporation

MCS introduced ANVIL-5000, a 3-D mechanical CADD/CAM/CAE system that, for over a decade, was the most powerful, fully integrated CADD/CAM/CAE software available, running on all grades of engineering computers.

ArchiCAD 2.0 for Apple was released.

Autodesk released AutoCAD version 2.5


ISICAD purchased CADVANCE and later developed it into the first Windows based CAD application on the market.

ArchiCAD 3.0 for Apple was released

Intergraph purchased 50% of Bentley Systems

Prime purchased Versacad

AutoCAD R9 was released (only for DOS) - the first version of AutoCAD to require an 80x87 maths processor in computers based on Intel 8086 processors.

The release of AutoCAD R9 was a little surprise.
When Autodesk was asked what happened with versions 3 - 8, Autodesk reputedly replied, that there were really 8 major previous versions. Even if 3-8 versions nobody had ever seen, to call a new version as 3.0 seemed not to be a good idea, and so AutoCAD R9 was released


CATIA Version 3 was released and became the automotive application leader. This version was announced with AEC functionality.

Surfware Inc., shipped the first version of SurfCAM, a CAD/CAM program.

PTC shipped the first version of Pro/ENGINEER. Concept of parametric modeling is quickly followed by other products, such as SolidEdge, SolidWorks, Unigraphics,... etc.

MDM&E/Unigraphics was threatened by Pro/ENGINEER and was forced to react more quickly, and so, the Unigraphics acquired Shape Data (developer of solid modeller Romulus), quickly retired the PADL-2 based UniSolids and in late 1989 introduced solid-modeling CAD software program named UG/Solids based on Parasolid.

Autodesk released AutoSolid and AutoCAD R10 (DOS & MAC), with full 3D capabilities


Spatial Technology developed the first version of ACIS solid modeling kernel. Ron Davidson launched Parasolid as a "de-facto standard" solid modeling kernel. The solid modeling kernel Designbase (released in 1987 by Ricoh) was quickly adopted by many Japanese CAD software vendors and Ricoh began to sell Designbase in the US.

and ...started the war of the "solid modelling kernels" between ACIS, DesignBase and Parasolid which was to continue throughout the following decade.

Graphisoft started to sell and support ArchiCAD products in the US and Canada.

IBM acquired CADAM Inc. from Lockheed

Autodesk acquired Generic Software and integrated Generic CADD product line into the Autodesk products

The first version of the KOMPAS-Graphic system was released.

CSC company shipped MicroCADAM, a CAD/CAM program which became the best selling CAD product in Japan.

By the end of the decade the leading CAD software systems become:
CATIA (Dassault Systemes), Pro/Engineer (Parametric Technology), I-DEAS (SDRC) and MDC (Unigraphics)


Visio company was founded (originally named as Axon Corporation, renamed to ShapeWare in 1992, and finally renamed to Visio Corporation in 1995)

Autodesk released the first version of 3D Studio and also AutoCAD R11 (DOS & MAC & Unix) with new features – especially Drawing space, and AME modul for 3D


Dassault acquired CADAM software from IBM (IBM acquired CADAM from Lockheed in 1989)

Delta company (the developer of DUCT) was renamed to Delcam International.

The EDS subsidiary of GM acquired McDonnell Douglas Systems Integration Co

Vartimex Corporation released the first version of its CAD/CAM product called Vartimetrix

Computervison acquired Premise company with its DesignView which was the basis of CADDS 5 system – released in the same year


Autodesk shipped AutoCAd R12 (DOS & MAC) - the most popular version with 3D modul AME and AVE for visualization. At the same time 3D Studio 2 was released.

Visio Technical was released - the first version

A programming company developed software named Phoenix (nowadays known as IntelliCAD). Their main aim to fame was ADE (AutoCAD Data Extension), which they sold to Autodesk and which eventually became part of Autodesk MAP as well as part of IntelliCAD.


PTC started to sell Pro/ENGINEER for  Windows NT

ArchiCAD 4.16 was released – the first Archicad for Windows 3.1 (previously available only for Apple)

Autodesk shipped the first AutoCAD LT 1.0 for Windows 3.1 and also the 3D Studio 3 ...Autodesk originally planned to include AutoLISP into AutoCADu LT, but LISP was pulled out at the last minute.

released I-DEAS Master Series

John Hirschtick from Computervision founded a new CAD company called SolidWorks, Inc.

CINEMA 4D version 1 for Amiga was released

Dassault shipped a new version of CATIA - CATIA 4

With a massive difference in growth rates, UNIX was rapidly overtaken by Windows NT (at that time a quite stable system) as the dominate CAD/CAM platform.

CAD market had grown to the point that Bill Gates (Microsoft) started to be interested in it.


Autodesk bought the Micro Engineering Solution company and their product called Solution 3000 renamed to  AutoSurf v.1.
At the same time Autodesk shipped also 3D Studio 4 and AutoCAD R13 for DOS and Windows. AutoCAD already included ACIS 3D modelling kernel and (as the first AutoCAD version) enabled export to DWF format

DesignCAD 3D for MS-DOS was released

A key period to the SolidWorks, Inc, was arrival of Michael Payne (founder and Vice President of Development for PTC) who joined the SolidWorks.
...and the first prototype of Solidworks software was shown this year. 

Microstation v.5, CINEMA 4D version 2 for Amiga and MiniCAD v.5 were introduced.

Softdesk acquired Phoenix (IntelliCAD).
Softdesk and Cyco Software were the largest AutoCAD developers at that time. Cyco Software was kicked out of an AutoCAD conference, because its product (Auto- Manager) competed with one of Autodesk (WorkCenter) - never mind that the AutoManager product was the first, and Autodesk's WorkCenter came later. The falling out with Cyco set off alarm bells at Softdesk. What if Autodesk cuts us off like Cyco? they wondered. Softdesk decided to create a secret team for secret project named IntelliCAD. The team with ten programmers (as a precaution) was located on the other side of the country. 


Bentley started to ship MicroStation 95 independent from Intergraph

Autodesk shipped the first version of Mechanical Desktop, AutoCAD LT 95 and also 3D Studio MAX - which is a 3D Studio for Win NT

FIT, Inc., purchased ISICAD and their product CADVANCE.

Parametric Technology released Pro/E v.15 and cut-down version of its high-end product called Pro/Junior

Dassault Systems shipped ProCADAM, a shorter version of CATIA used for NT systems.

Computervision released a mechanical engineering, high-end CAD program - MEDUSA

CADKEY v7, CINEMA 4D v3 for Amiga, ...and new versions of other CADs were released

SolidWorks 95 was shipped


Intergraph introduced Solid Edge

IMSI shipped TurboCAD 2D/3D v.3 for DOS & Win and MAC. But 3D features were avaiable only for MAC platform.

A newly formed company DATACAD LLC purchased rights for DataCAD product from Micro Control Systems, Inc.

Autodesk acquired Softdesk (maker of AutoArchitect, CAD Overlay... etc.) - but Softdesk apparently did not tell Autodesk about its AutoCAD clone IntelliCAD (still called Phoenix).

ArchiCAD 5.0, Pro/E v17, CINEMA 4D v4, MiniCAD 6 for Win, Micro Station Modeler v.4, ...and new versions of other CADs were released


PTC acquired Computer Intergraph

SDRC shipped IDEAS Artisan Series – fully compatible with IDEAS Master Series

Revit Technology Corporation released Revit – which brought revolution to AEC.

Nemetschek Programmsystem GmbH was transformed to Nemetschek AG and assumed to have a leadership role in EU

Dassault acquired SolidWorks and released SolidWorks 97

The first version of KOMPAS-3D for Windows was released

AutoCAD R14, LT97, Mechanical Desktop 2, 3D Studio MAX R2, Pro/E v18, TurboCAD Professional v4, CINEMA 4D v5, Unigraphics v12, ......and new versions of other CADs were released.

Autodesk cancelled 3D Studio VIZ.

Alibre, Inc. was founded (originally named Entity Systems, but it was renamed before releasing its software). Alibre took over a few employees of SolidWorks.

Parametric Technology released PT/Modeller

To prevent a monopoly, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Autodesk to divest itself of IntelliCAD, not to buy companies that dealt with IntelliCAD, and did not interfere in employees who left Autodesk and began to work with IntelliCAD. Boomerang Technology for the purpose of acquiring the IntelliCAD was founded. And at the same time - Boomerang assigned and sold all of its rights to the IntelliCADD product to Visio Corporation (originally named ShapeWare).


Visio started to sell IntelliCAD 98 – AutoCADu R14 clone. There were 12.000 licences of IntelliCAD sold for the first three months. The successful sale of their Visio Technical (on its stimulation, the Autodesk later released competitive product Actrix Technical) continued.

The Open DWG Aliance was formed.

AutoCAD Architectural Desktop for Windows was released – the first AEC application of Autodesk

Dassault shipped a new version of CATIA - CATIA 5

Intergraph released Solid Edge v.3 and subsequently USG acquired Solid Edge from Intergraph

PTC acquired Computervision and their product CADDS 5

ArchiCAD 6.0 for  Windows & MAC, ...and new versions of other CADs were released.


SolidWorks introduced eDrawings and provided free tools for eDrawings creation & viewing

The RealArchitects company invented the way of DIESEL language (former language of GenericCADD) used to create add-ons for AutoCAD LT

PTC assumed rights to VersaCAD from Archway Systems company

Microsoft nearly entered to the CAD market – by Visio acquisition. Visio became the division in Microsoft. Because of the potential risk of judicial anti-trust problems, Microsoft spun off IntelliCAD into a public service organisation ( to give away Intellicad for free - and the ITC (IntelliCAD Technology Consorcium) was founded.
Microsoft was aware it would make Autodesk angry (the sixth largest software company at that time) , which started to compete with Microsoft in multi-media software area.

2000 - to yesterday (overview of the main events)

The new versions of old CAD products and also new CADs were released, and their number was already becoming hard to read

AutoCAD clone - IntelliCAD was released in 2000.
Autodesk announced Inventor and shipped Actrix Technical (as response to Visio Technical)

It is assumed that by mutual agreement in 2001, Microsoft abandoned IntelliCAD in exchange for Autodesk abandoning Actrix Technical
Finally - IntelliCAD became independed from Microsoft, ITC shipped IntelliCAD 2001, and Microsoft shipped its Visio 2002

Alibre, Inc. announced its Alibre Design 1.0 in 2001.

Unigraphics Solutions changed its name to UGS, and acquired SDRC company in 2001

Autodesk acquired Revit Inc. (in 2002), which was an „anti-AutoCAD rebel“ with absolutely unique conception to 3D AEC parametric modeling with artificial intelligence. Subsequently, Autodesk released Autodesk Revit - the first version

SensAble Technologies made the small revolution in digital modeling with the release of FreeForm v.2 in 2000

Bentley acquired InRoads software from Intergraph (in 2000) and acquired Infrasoft (in 2000) - a developer of AutoCAD and Archicad moduls for general road design (MXROAD) and others. It is assumed that the main reason for the Infrasoft purchase was to sidetrack Autodesk from "civil design".

Nemetschek introduced its product called VectorWorks ARCHITECT (in 2000), acquired Diehl Graphsoft and becomed 100% owner of Graphisoft SE in 2007

Dassault acquired Spatial Technology, PTC acquired CoCreate, Siemens AG acquired UGS, Autodesk acquired Alias ...
... and other major CAD companies were buying smaller CAD companies, thereby gaining valuable know-how of improving their products, or to "the destruction of potential competition".

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 July 2013 11:36

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