Where did the first Org Chart come from?

This blog traces the origins of the organizational chart to the 1855 New York and Erie Railroad diagram, one of the first visualizations of a company's structure. It also explores the evolution of org charts from early diagrams to essential digital tools powered by modern solutions.
first Org Chart

Table of contents

"Innovation is the calling card of the future"
Anna Eshoo.

In order to innovate, start at the roots.

Have you ever wondered where org charts come from? If we go back far enough, there are figurative examples of organizational hierarchies shown in the early Sumerian, Egyptian and even Mayan civilizations. These early examples come in the form of art like paintings and sculptures, but one look at them will show that they are worlds apart from what we think about when we talk about Org Charts.

first Org Chart

(Source: Sumerian, Standard of Ur, British Museum, London)

So the real but long-winded question is: what is the first, modern, graphical representation of an organization's people hierarchy?

If we go back several years, almost one hundred and fifty, to 1855, we’ll find that the railroad industry was the first to use a modern-looking org chart to visually map out their huge organizational structures by function and geographic location.

The New York and Erie Railroad designed one of the first modern organization charts. It was designed to exhibit the division of administrative duties and give a clear picture of how each department supported a vital function.

first Org Chart

(Created by: Daniel McCallum & George Holt Henshaw, 1855)

Organizational charts have evolved over time; what was once only used in niche circles is now standard in businesses all over the world.

Nowadays, most employees expect to have simple and immediate access to an org chart to understand the structure of their company and see where they fit in it.

Org Charts have evolved from art, to detailed structural diagrams drawn on paper, to digitally rendered charts based on real people-data. Organizational design has also evolved, from post-it notes and white boards, to Excel spreadsheets and Visio, and onwards to purpose-built organization design technology.

Organizational design technology helps leaders leverage their workforce and ensure that their company’s structure supports business goals. The best solutions leverage your core HR data and allow for multiple planning scenarios with intuitive drag and drop functionality, simplifying the organizational design process.

first Org Chart

(Created by: Nakisa Hanelly, 2019)

Nakisa Hanelly (above) is a cloud-based organization design solution for org charts, org design and HR analytics. It integrates with HCM systems allowing users to visualize their organization structure, access key-metrics and build what-if scenarios.

Can you imagine what The New York and Erie Railroad would have done if they had Nakisa Hanelly back in 1855? Well, probably ask for computers and the internet first… But you get our point.

To learn more about Org Chart and Organizational Design software, check out An HR Professional’s Guide to Selecting an Organizational Design Solution.

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