Rare Historical Photos

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By Vickiec / February 16, 2023

Life before the invention of AutoCAD, 1950-1980

Before the advent of AutoCAD and other drafting software, engineering drawings were made on sheets of large paper using drawing boards. Many types of equipment were required to complete a given drawing, such as drawing board, different grade pencils, erasers T-squares, set square, etc.

The major disadvantage of a paper-based design was that you could not change the drawing after it was committed to paper. This would mean that if changes were required to the design, the engineers would need to create the sketches all over again.

Examining the history of engineering drafting and design equivocally means looking at the history of man, the history of building things. Drafting and design have been around since the dawn of time.

The earliest recorded history of engineering drafting was in 2000 B.C., of which we have a fossilized aerial view plan of a Babylonian castle.

For the majority of drafting’s history, it was an art form perfected by skilled designers and essential to a culture’s infrastructure. For quite a long time, engineering meant getting out paper and drawing out plans and designs by hand.

The modern age of engineering drafting was ushered in back in 1963 when a man named Ivan Sutherland invented a little program called Sketchpad. This was the first graphically interfaced CAD program – if you can call it that – to allow users to create x-y plots.

By no means were engineers of the day using this program on a daily basis or even at all, but it started what is now a booming computer-aided design industry all centered around engineering design.

A drafting class in the early 1970s.

Significant intellectual and financial investments were made in the 1960s into CAD programs by engineers at Boeing, Ford, Citroen, MIT, and GM. Likely evident by the companies involved, CAD emerged as a way to simplify automotive and aerospace designs.

Due to a significant, lack of processing power compared to today’s standards, early CAD design required large financial and engineering capabilities.

However, thanks to Moore’s Law and the rapid growth of electronics, CAD capabilities expanded steadily over the next half-century. Right in the middle of that growing advancement, the engineering world saw the foundation of Autodesk. At this time, it was the computer hardware available that was holding CAD programs back.

Despite the massive effort by the technical field in the early 1980s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that CAD software became capable enough to be practical in engineering design.

Before, drafting was tedious and time-consuming. And the photos below really show it. Looking at them, you can almost hear the rustling paper. Now, architecture design, electrical and other drafters are mainly clicking their mouse and keyboard.

Tamron’s drafting department in the late 1970s.

Urban designers before AutoCad.

Technical drawing, drafting or drawing, is the act and discipline of composing drawings that visually communicate how something functions or is constructed.

The need for precise communication in the preparation of a functional document distinguishes technical drawing from the expressive drawing of the visual arts. Artistic drawings are subjectively interpreted; their meanings are multiply determined. Technical drawings are understood to have one intended meaning.

The basic drafting procedure is to place a piece of paper (or other material) on a smooth surface with right-angle corners and straight sides—typically a drawing board.

In addition, the drafter uses several technical drawing tools to draw curves and circles. Primary among these are the compasses, used for drawing simple arcs and circles, and the French curve, for drawing curves.

The basic drafting system requires an accurate table and constant attention to the positioning of the tools.

A sliding straightedge known as a T-square is then placed on one of the sides, allowing it to be slid across the side of the table, and over the surface of the paper.

Urban designers.

Today, the mechanics of the drafting task have largely been automated and accelerated through the use of computer-aided design systems (CAD).

Designing and putting everything on paper was a tough job, maybe that’s why the need of creation of Autocad software came up.

Drafting was indeed was tedious and time-consuming.

Here draftsmen are correcting geological survey printing plates, at The Department of Interior Geological Survey Section, Washington DC. 1939.


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