The IHO was originally established in 1921 as the International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB). The present name was adopted in 1970 as a result of a revised international agreement among member nations. However, the former name International Hydrographic Bureau was retained for the IHO's administrative body of three Directors and a small staff at the organization's headquarters in Monaco.
During the 19th century, many maritime nations established hydrographic offices to provide means for improving the navigation of naval and merchant vessels by providing nautical publications, nautical charts, and other navigational services. There were substantial differences in hydrographic procedures charts, and publications. In 1889, an International Marine Conference was held at Washington, D.C., and it was proposed to establish a "permanent international commission." Similar proposals were made at the sessions of the International Congress of Navigation held at St. Petersburg in 1908 and again in 1912.