William Playfair, a Scottish economist, bemoaned the difficulty in quickly interpreting the complex numerical and financial tables that were common at the time. In 1786 he published a series of graphs and charts to help. Playfair remarked, "And it is hoped, that, with the assistance of these charts, such information will be got, without the fatigue and trouble of studying the particulars of which it is composed." According to HBR the charts never caught on during his life and he died in poverty in 1823.
Too bad Playfair couldn't see the explosion in charts and graphs we have today. I think he'd be proud, knowing that his 230+ year old charts gave inspiration to industries of all types, all over the globe. Learn more about William Playfair and have a gander at his original charts.