The idea that the Moon is not perfectly smooth originates to at least circa 450 BC, when Democritus asserted that the Moon had "lofty mountains and hollow valleys". However, not until the end of the 15th century AD did serious study of selenography began. Circa AD 1603, William Gilbert made the first lunar drawing based on naked-eye observation. Others soon followed, and when the telescope was invented, initial drawings of poor accuracy were made, but soon thereafter improved in tandem with optics. In the early 18th century, the librations of the Moon were measured, which revealed that more than half of the lunar surface was visible to observers on Earth. In 1750, Johann Meyer produced the first reliable set of lunar coordinates that permitted astronomers to locate lunar features.
Lunar mapping became systematic in 1779 when Johann Schröter began meticulous observation and measurement of lunar topography. In 1834 Johann Heinrich von Mädler published the first large cartograph (map) of the Moon, comprising 4 sheets in size, and he subsequently published The Universal Selenography. All lunar measurement was based on direct observation until March 1840, when
J.W. Draper, using a 5 inch reflector, produced a daguerreotype of the Moon and thus introduced photography to astronomy. At first, the images were of very poor quality, but as with the telescope 200 years earlier, their quality rapidly improved. By 1890 lunar photography had become a recognized subdiscipline of astronomy.
The 20th century witnessed more advances in selenography. In 1959, the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first photographs of the far side of the Moon, giving the first view of it in history. The United States of America launched the Ranger spacecraft between 1961 and 1965 to photograph the lunar surface until the instant they impacted it, the Lunar Orbiters between 1966 and 1967 to photograph the Moon from orbit, and the Surveyors between 1966 and 1968 to photograph and softly land on the lunar surface. The Soviet Lunokhods 1 (1970) and 2 (1973) traversed almost 50 km of the lunar surface, making detailed photographs of the lunar surface. The Clementine spacecraft obtained the first nearly global cartograph (map) of the lunar topography, and also multispectral images. Successive missions transmitted photographs of increasing resolution.