In a full page obituary Roger Tomlinson: The father of computerized cartography in the Globe and Mail there is interesting information about the earliest computerization of geospatial technology..
The Canada Land Inventory was designed in the late 1960's and implemented between 1967 and 1977. In its lifetime over 15,000 capability maps were produced and it remains one of the largest digital sources of multi-disciplinary information for most of the settled portion of Canada, an area of approximately 2.5 million sq km. This Federal-Provincial Inventory Program was a massive undertaking especially given the computing tools available at the time it was developed. The CLI is available online Canadian Land Inventory at the Geogratis web site of Natural Resources Canada.
In the early 1960's Lee Pratt was appointed head of the federal government’s Canada Land Inventory which had been tasked with developing a one-million-square-mile resource map of Canada’s inhabited and productive land. In an interview some years later, Dr. Roger Tomlinson explained Mr. Pratt’s challenge: “Canadian farmers were in a bad way financially … So the first question was, ‘What do we actually know about this farmland?’ We also needed to know, ‘Could the land be used for other things, such as recreation or plantations?’ ‘What does the census say about the income of these farmers?’ ‘What about their level of education?’ ‘Can we educate ourselves out of this problem?’ ”
Mr. Pratt had calculated it would take three years and the labour of more than 500 trained geographers to complete the task at a cost of $8-million. By computerizing the maps, however, Dr. Tomlinson estimated that he could do the job in weeks rather than years for less than $2-million.
A team of designers and programmers coded an application (in IBM 360 assembler if I remember) and scanned aerial images and created the world’s first computerized geographic information system. It was featured in a 1967 National Film Board documentary.