The History of the Whiteboard and Ideation

Nobody living today will remember a time where there wasn’t a blackboard or a whiteboard at the front of the classroom. In the last two centuries, these tools have been central to the classroom and the innovation process, but there was once a time before they existed.

In this article, we will explore the long history of the whiteboard, demonstrate how it’s evolved in the last decade, and highlight why it’s so important for ideation.

Where Did the First Whiteboard Originate?

The origins of the whiteboard are relatively recent and have risen to popularity in the last 75 years, but the whiteboard’s predecessor dates much further back.

Whiteboards are an evolution of the chalkboard, which was first invented in 1801 by Edinburgh geography teacher James Pillans.

This was a big deal because it marked the first time that teachers were able to provide a central point of focus for the entire class. Teachers now had a dynamic visual aid to help them teach, and this board could double as a textbook, a problem set, or a blank page.

Soon after, blackboards were commonplace in classrooms around the world. They were used well through the 1900s, where they eventually evolved into a green enamel which, for many, is how they’re best recognized.

As this was happening, however, the modern whiteboard was beginning to take shape.

As with most inventions, there is some dispute as to the real creator of the whiteboard, but most people credit it to Martin Heit, a photographer who discovered the possibility after using a sharpie to write on film negatives. He first developed the whiteboard sometime in the mid-1950s.

Early whiteboards weren’t incredibly popular because they didn’t function quite like the ones we have now. They needed to be wiped off by wet cloths in order to be erased, and even this still didn’t fully remove the smudge left behind.

It was only after the invention of the dry-erase marker in 1975 that the whiteboard really took off. Dry erase markers removed the need for a wet eraser and easily wiped off the board without a trace. This ease of use made the whiteboard incredibly popular and is what catalyzed its spread across the world.

What Purpose did Whiteboards Originally Serve?

As we saw from their initial application, both chalkboards and whiteboards were intended for the classroom and that’s where they saw the majority of their use.

Now with more modern versions of whiteboards, you often see a collection of whiteboards at the front of classrooms, all working together to explain an idea or concept to the entire class. Being able to quickly add and erase information makes this possible and allows everyone to learn together.

While classrooms and education are where whiteboards were created, the main purpose for using them was to learn and explain new ideas. These applications are not exclusive to the classroom, and any group of people looking to collaborate or share knowledge with each other is now able to thanks to the whiteboard.

What do Modern Whiteboards Look Like?

Modern whiteboards are slick surfaces that make adding and erasing information incredibly easy and they can hold up to massive amounts of writing before smudging. Many modern whiteboards have actually evolved past their physical form, however, and have taken on a new digital format.

One of the modern adaptations of the whiteboard is the SmartBoard. Smartboards are essentially a digital adaptation of a physical whiteboard and are the most direct evolution.

A Smartboard is a physical board that you put at the front of the room, but it is able to connect to the internet and use digital pens to write and erase information. These boards have replaced whiteboards as the pinnacle of classroom collaboration and allow teachers to access a much wider array of problems, solutions, and exercises than ever before. While smartboards are futuristic and a modern version of the chalkboard, they essentially still serve the same purpose.

Smartboards are the perfect modern solution for classrooms, but they aren’t the only evolution of the whiteboard.

Online whiteboards are the next step for whiteboards when it comes to digital collaboration and business applications, and they ditch the physical board entirely.

Online whiteboards provide a shared collaborative space where people can create templates from scratch or use pre-made templates to collaborate with their team in real-time. This allows teams to engage in collaboration from anywhere across the world and utilize structures that help boost their efficiency.

The perks of using an online whiteboard aren’t offered by any other tools, and they are the future of collaboration in the workplace.

Why are Whiteboards Linked With Innovation?

Now that we have a solid idea of how whiteboards have evolved through time, we can ask: Why are they so heavily linked with ideation and innovation?

Whiteboards are quick, easy, and scrappy. You can jam out a ton of ideas in a short period of time and organize them all on a shared visual interface with your team.

Innovators want to ideate fast and this is exactly what online whiteboards provide. Besides being useful in classrooms, whiteboards have always been important for brainstorming, which is one of the most impactful innovation exercises.

Another key advantage that online whiteboards provide innovators is creating a living document out of their brainstorming session. Traditionally, someone might take a picture of the board, or take the paper home, but realistically that won’t be used again.

With online whiteboards, however, you can transition your contributions to a permanent place that can be accessed whenever needed, This ensures that the spark of innovation you find in your brainstorming exercise won’t get lost in translation and can be implemented directly to your solution.

These capabilities make whiteboards an extremely useful tool for innovators and make creating new ideas easier than ever.


From the initial creation of the chalkboard to the implementation of online whiteboard apps like Fresco, the whiteboard has taken a long journey to find its current form. This journey has been filled with innovation and collaboration for centuries and will continue for years to come.

This article was originally published on the IdeaScale blog here.



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