What is an Organizational Chart

In 1855, railway general superintendent Daniel McCallum (1815-1878) designed what is thought to be the first modern organizational chart. It was an illustrated diagram of the New York and Erie Railway. McCallum had it drawn up by draftsman and civil engineer George Holt Henshaw (1831-1891). McCallum, born in Scotland, also served as a Union major general in the Civil War. Henshaw, a Canadian, worked for waterworks and railway companies in Canada, the United States and Denmark.

The term “organizational chart” took another 50 to 60 years to come into common use. Consulting engineer Willard C. Brinton used the term in his 1914 textbook, Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts. He touted the value of the charts and said they should be more widely used. The charts were mainly used in engineering circles until the 1920s, when they began to find their way into the business world.

The lesser-known synonyms “Organigram” and “Organogram” came into use in the 1960s.

A related diagram is called an Organigraph. While is still reflects organizational structure, it’s less linear than an org chart and serves a different purpose: to illustrate associations and opportunities among departments, products or supply chains.