In 1988 Professor Bill Loy was one of the recipients of a U.S. Department of Education networking grant and used it to purchase an Intergraph Unix workstation. (Loy taught in the university's Geography Department from 1967 to 1997 and served as director and cartographer of the first edition of the Atlas of Oregon, published in 1976.) Also in 1988, Meacham, then a graduate student in geography, started working with Loy to found the Lab. Meacham formally became the Lab's manager in 1992 and its director in 1997.

Loy and Meacham's goal was to bring computer graphics and mapping capability to the university and to publish the second edition of the Atlas of Oregon (the latter task was completed in 2001, with Loy as its editor). With some start-up funding from the University planning office they started developing a digital map of their university's campus.

The Lab's next project was an atlas of Lane County, Oregon, which covers an area of 4,620 square miles and includes Eugene. Completed in 1990, this project gave the Lab an opportunity to develop its capability to make atlases with computer-based tools. It combined digital and manual techniques. After the Lane County Atlas, Meacham took on the research and development task of converting the Official Oregon Highway Map from a manual to a digitally created product.