Who Invented the Graphics Card?

By Cora Lauderdale

Graphics were used with computer hardware before the first graphic card was invented. The first computer graphic to be used on a computer was in the 1940s, when the Whirlwind I was developed for the U.S. Navy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Whirlwind was a flight simulator that could locate objects.Dr. Ivan Sutherland, an MIT graduate, wrote Sketchpad in 1963. Sketchpad was a software program used on a TX-2 computer with a monitor and light pen. Sketchpad drew images on a computer.

Graphics Made Using a Programming Language

In the 1970s, Alan Kay, a scientist at Xerox PARC, would use Sutherland's idea to develop Alto. Alto was a graphical user interface program that used icons to perform a computer task. The lines of code from a programmed language were part of the GUI, but hidden in the background.Video games were also being developed with graphics. Programming languages like COBOL and Fortran were used to perform basic operations on mainframes and minicomputers. In 1952, A.S. Douglas, a doctoral student, created a graphic tic-tac-toe game using an algorithm, or a set of rules. The game was played on an EDSAC vacuum tube computer with a cathode ray tube monitor. In 1972, Nolan Bushnell created the Atari brand and made Pong. With Ivan Sutherland's success in developing the Sketchpad program, computer programmers began using programming languages to make computer graphics and design software applications.

International Business Machines Company

In 1965, IBM created the first graphic display machine. The IBM 1130 computer was used with the IBM 2250 display unit. The IBM 2250 was a cathode ray tube (blank screen TV), which used programmed software from the IBM 1130. The images were drawn on a screen using a light pen and displayed vector graphics.

Graphic Types

Raster and vector graphics are used on a computer to display images. Raster graphics uses pixels, small dots that attach to a bitmap grid. Each pixel is placed on a specific location based on the drawing. If the graphic is a line, it will appear smooth. But once the graphic is enlarged, it appears distorted or fuzzy. Vector graphics uses a point-to-point math scale. Using a math scale, vector graphics have a defined path for points, lines and curves. The images are much clearer, even when enlarged.

Graphic Card

In the past, cathode ray tubes were used to display graphics and looked like a TV set. In the 1980s, IBM was the first company to develop the graphics card. The monochrome display adapter and the color graphics adapter were plug-in devices that attached to the CRT. The MDA card had 4 kilobytes of memory that could handle 720 by 350 pixels and could display 25 rows of 80 characters. The CGA had 16 kilobytes of memory and 160 by 200 pixels. The CGS had two types of resolution for text and three types for graphics. IBM would later develop the Enhanced Graphics Adapter, the Video Graphics Array, Extended Graphics Array, Ultra Extended Graphics Array and the Super Video Graphics Array.


In the 1990s, IBM developed the Extended Video Graphics Array, still in use today with monitors and projectors. The EVGA has 1024 by 768 pixels and displays 256 colors. Intel has developed the Accelerated Graphics Port Digital Display card. When the adapter card is attached to the Intel 865G chip, it can be used as an output device for televisions, digital displays and monitors. The ARG adapter has a resolution of 2048 by 1536 pixels and 16.7 million colors.

Current Trend

Today, graphic cards are not being made only for computer use. Companies like Nvidia and ATI are making 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional graphic cards for gaming. Video consoles like PlayStation and GameBoy use these graphic cards for video display.