The Major Events in the History of Information Retrieval (in the United States)
According to Professors David Scott Dubin and Linda Cheryl Smith
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Graduate School of Library and Information Science

Caveat: This list is highly skewed toward developments in the United States.

1890Hollerith tabulating machines used to analyze the US census  Herman Hollerith

1945: Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" appears in Atlantic Monthly 

Late 1940's: US military confronts problems of indexing and retrieval of wartime scientific research documents captured from Germans.

1947: Hans Peter Luhn (research engineer at IBM since 1941) begins work on mechanized, punch card based system for searching chemical compounds.
1950: The term "information retrieval" may have been coined by Calvin Mooers

1950's: Growing concern in the US for a "science gap" with the Soviets.  Motivates, encourages funding, and provides a backdrop for mechanized  literature searching systems (Allen Kent et al) and the invention of citation indexing (Eugene Garfield). 

1955: Allen Kent joins Case Western Reserve University, and eventually becomes associate director of the Center for Documentation and Communications Research.

1958: International Conference on Scientific Information Washington DC included consideration of IR systems as a solution to problems identified. See: Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information, 1958 (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1959)

1959: Hans Peter Luhn publishes “Auto-encoding of documents for information retrieval.” (more on Luhn)

1960: Melvin Earl (Bill) Maron and J. L. Kuhns publish “On relevance, probabilistic indexing, and information retrieval” in Journal of the ACM, 7(3):216-244, July 1960.

Early 1960's: Gerard Salton begins work on IR at Harvard, later moves to Cornell.

1962: Cyril W. Cleverdon publishes early findings of the Cranfield studies, developing a model for IR system evaluation
See: Cyril W. Cleverdon, "Report on the Testing and Analysis of an Investigation into the Comparative Efficiency of Indexing Systems". Cranfield Coll. of Aeronautics, Cranfield, England, 1962.

1962: Kent publishes Information Analysis and Retrieval

1963: Weinberg report "Science, Government and Information" gives a full articulation of the idea of a "crisis of scientific information."  The report was named after Dr. Alvin Weinberg.

1963: Joseph Becker and Robert Hayes publish text on information retrieval
Becker, Joseph; Hayes, Robert Mayo. Information storage and retrieval: tools, elements, theories. New York, Wiley (1963).

1964: Karen Sparck Jones finishes thesis at Cambridge, Synonymy and Semantic Classification, and continues work on computational linguistics as it applies to IR

1964: National Bureau of standards sponsors a symposium titled "Statistical Association Methods for Mechanized Documentation." Several highly significant papers, including G. Salton's first published reference (we believe) to the SMART system.

Mid-1960's: National Library of Medicine develops MEDLARS Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System, first major machine-readable database and batch retrieval system

Mid-1960's: Project Intrex at MIT

1965: J.C.R. Licklider publishes Libraries of the Future

1966: Don Swanson involved in studies at University of Chicago on Requirements for Future Catalogs

1968: Gerard Salton publishes Automatic Information Organization and Retrieval.

1968: J. W. Sammon's RADC Tech report "Some Mathematics of Information Storage and Retrieval..." outlines the vector model.

1969: Sammon's "A nonlinear mapping for data structure analysis" (IEEE Transactions on Computers) first proposal for visualization interface to an IR system.

Late 1960's: F. W. Lancaster completes evaluation studies of the MEDLARS system and publishes the first edition of his text on information retrieval

Early 1970's: first online systems--NLM's AIM-TWX, MEDLINE; Lockheed's Dialog; SDC's ORBIT

Early 1970's: Theodor Nelson promoting concept of hypertext, published Computer Lib/Dream Machines

1971: Jardine and Van Rijsbergen's "The use of hierarchic clustering in information retrieval", articulates the "cluster hypothesis."

1975: Three highly influential publications by Salton fully articulate his vector processing framework and term discrimination model:
A Theory of Indexing  (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)
"A theory of term importance in automatic text analysis", (JASIS v. 26)
"A vector space model for automatic indexing", (CACM 18:11)

1978: First ACM SIGIR conference.

1979: Van Rijsbergen publishes Information Retrieval (Butterworths).
Heavy emphasis on probabilistic models.

1980: First international ACM SIGIR conference, joint with British Computer Society IR group in Cambridge

1982: Belkin, Oddy, and Brooks propose the ASK (Anomalous State of Knowledge) viewpoint for information retrieval. Important concept, though their automated analysis tool proves ultimately disappointing.

1983: Salton (and M. McGill) publish Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval (McGraw-Hill), with heavy emphasis on vector models.

Mid-1980's: efforts to develop end user versions of commercial IR systems (the topic of this paper!)

1985-1993: Key papers on and experimental systems for visualization interfaces.
Work by D. B. Crouch, R. R. Korfhage, M. Chalmers, A. Spoerri and others.

1989: First World Wide Web proposals by Tim Berniers-Lee at CERN

1992: First TREC conference.

1997: Publication of Korfhage's Information Retrieval with emphasis on visualization and multi-reference point systems.

Late 1990's: Web search engine implementation of many features formerly found only in experimental IR systems

Compiled by Karen E. Medina via email, December 1999.

For more information see :

Garfield, Eugene. "On the Shoulders of Giants". presented at The Conference on The History and Heritage of Science Information Systems, Pittsburgh, PA October 24, 1998 (Nov. 24, 2000).

M. E. Maron and J. L. Kuhns. On relevance, probabilistic indexing and information retrieval. Journal of the ACM, 7(3):216-244, July 1960.

Lesk, Michael. "The Seven Ages of Information Retrieval" UDT Occasional Paper # 5. and

History of the Vision. A timeline of public access to science information.

People to add to a longer list:

Claude Elwood Shannon, founder of Information Theory
frequency based processing : Edmundson, Van Rijsberghen, along with the aforementioned Salton and Sparck Jones.