In 1861 a first General Statistics Division was set up within the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1926, the Central Institute of Statistics was created under law n. 1162: the idea of statistics as a tool for understanding phenomena started to grow along with the conviction that all surveys should be carried out by a single independent body.
From the beginning, the Institute undertook not only to produce but also to disseminate information: it started to regularly publish the Italian Statistical Yearbook and the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics. In 1952 Istat organised the first sample survey on labour force in Sicily and in the provinces of Milan, Pisa and Naples. Since 1957, the survey has been carried out quarterly on a national basis.
In the years 1966-1968 the publication of the Supplements to the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics allowed for a rapid dissemination of results of major surveys of the Institute. The aim was to facilitate access to statistical information and to broaden the range of users. In those same years the first sample surveys on household consumptions, reading habits and vacation started being carrried out. In 1983, the databases of the Institute officially opened to the public. In 1986, Istat obtained official recognition for its scientific work and, accordingly, was included in the research sector.
In 1989, the Legislative Decree n. 322 laid down the rules for the establishment of the National Statistical System and contributed to make statistical production more user-oriented. Istat became the National Institute of Statistics and was charged with planning and coordinating the entire structure. In 1992, according to the dictates of the law, the first National Conference of Statistics was held and became a two-year occasion for producers and users of official statistics to meet.
In 1995, Istat opened its first regional offices, the Statistical Information Centres to assist users at all levels; two years later, access to the European Union harmonized statistics was officially allowed. In 1996, Istat renovated its editorial production and launched its new institutional website.
According to the deadlines and criteria set by the Maastricht Treaty, since 1998 Istat has being elaborating and disseminating data on convergence indicators, necessary to evaluate the performance of the country's economy.
In 2000-2001, the Institute carried out the 5th General census of agriculture, the 14th General census of population and housing and the 8th General census of industry and services. In the same years, great impetus was given to the development of the website, offering free access to several databases and datawarehouses, i.e. systems for data storage and querying allowing users to generate customized statistical tables.
In 2005, Istat launched a new version of the institutional website.
In 2010, Istat released I.Stat, the datawarehouse of the statistics produced by the Institute. I.stat offers a complete and homogeneous wealth of statistical information. The data are organized by themes and presented in multidimensional tables together with a wide array of metadata. Access to the datawarehouse is free.
In 2010, Istat participated in the first World Statistics Day. Promoted and organized by the United Nations, the event involved the statistical institutions of more than 190 countries and international organizations in a full program of activities to enhance the visibility of the entire system of official statistics and increase public confidence in quantitative information.
In 2010 Istat started working on the new round of Census. Carried out every ten years, the survey paints a picture of the country on the basis of uniform criteria, thus allowing for comparisons at European and international level.
In October 2010 the 6th Census of agriculture started. In October 2011, the 15th Census of population and housing and the 9th Census of industry and services will start.
In 2011 the Institute actively participated in the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.