The original program was called ProDesign, and it was produced by American Small Business Machines, Inc. (ASBM) in Pryor, Oklahoma (I have no idea why I remember that!). It first came out in 1985. I started using it in 1987. It was 2D drafting only, and sold for $300.00.
For comparison, my company originally looked at a CAD program that ran on Digital Equipment PDP-11s sometime in the mid 1980s. The program sold for $100,000 and the PDP-11 system was another $50,000. It was far out of our budget range ($150,000 in 1985 = $325,000 in 2014).
We started using AutoCRUD (about $1000 per copy) on an IBM PC, and that program was horrible! It had one of the worst user interfaces ever designed. We got a trial version of ProDesign, then bought several copies and dumped the AutoDesk crap in the garbage. I remember it took something like a dozen menu operations and mouse clicks to set a single point in AutoCRUD, and you could do it with a single gravity snap in ProDesign! I think gravity snap was a ProDesign invention.
From the very beginning ProDesign had one of the best user interfaces ever created - and it carries forward to today's DesignCAD. The programmer's name was Robert Webster, and I think he was a genius. He wrote the first version in Pascal, an interpreted language that was all the rage in the '80s and has mercifully gone the way of the dinosaur. The Pascal version was very slow. Then the fellow rewrote the entire program in assembly language - one step above machine language (1s and 0s). I love assembly language! The new version was astonishingly fast (compared to the old version).
ProDesign lost out to AutoCRUD because of advertising. While ASBM spent it's energies producing the best CAD program AutoDesk put it's money in marketing morons. They were everywhere, promoting AutoCRUD as the best program ever written. Well, if you tell a lie often enough there will be gullible people who believe it. It was marketed to the business morons who had the buying authority for big companies, but who knew nothing about computers or CAD. AutoDesk was very successful with this approach, and it is how all large CAD programs have been marketed ever since - put chocolate on a cow pie and sell it to business majors as brownies.
ASBM merged with another company started by Bob Webster's brother to form Viagraphics in 1995/96. They changed the program name to DesignCAD and made some nice supporting materials, training videos, and such. But they were mainly a video tutorial company. There were some improvements to the program at that time.
Viagraphics was sold to Learn 2 (a video tutorial company) in 1999, but they weren't interested in DesignCAD so they sold it to Upperspace (another company started by Bob Webster) in 2000. They made some improvements and sold it to IMSI in 2003. However, Upperspace is still selling ancient versions of DesignCAD (Version 3000) and DesignCAD Express on their web page!
In 2005 Bob Mayer and his associates formed IMSI/Design LLC and bought DesignCAD and TurboCAD from IMSI.
I'm not sure when BasiCAD was introduced. It is a "macro" language based upon the BASIC entry-level programming language from the '70s. From the beginning it has been a pretty powerful macro language. DesignCAD also has a System Developer's Kit (SDK) that allows additional program functions to be attached to the program. Magic System's ContourCAM is a fine example of a C++ program integrated with DesignCAD through the OLE interface.
In 1992 the 3D version (V4?) was introduced for MS/DOS. I remember that it took 90 minutes to shade the fishing reel drawing that came with the sample drawings. And I had the fastest PC that I could build at that time - 22 MHz '286 with a math coprocessor and a whopping one megabyte of RAM!
V4, V5 and V6 were for MS/DOS. V4 and V5 had different 2D and 3D versions. V6 was 2D only.
In 1993 the first Windows 3.1 version of the 2D program (V7) was released. There was no 3D V7.
The 3D V5 for Windows followed the 2D V7.
A 3D V8 was released in 1995 for for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. There was a separate 2D V8 for MS/DOS. With V8 and later versions the 2D and 3D versions had the same version numbers.
A 2D/3D Version 9 was relased in 1997 for Windows 97, probably along with a 2D only version.
In 1999 V10 was released as DesignCAD Pro 2000, a 2D/3D version for Windows 97 and Windows NT4, and DesignCAD 2000 Express, the 2D only version.
Somewhere along the line the 2D/3D version became DesignCAD 3D Max.
Up to 2003 the 2D/3D version cost $500 and the 2D only version sold for $300. IMSI dropped the prices to $100 and $50. Occasionally you can get a "bargain sale" of a new package of the 2D/3D version for under $70.
I recall reading a review of CAD packages in a trade magazine, and it didn't include DesignCAD. I contacted the writer and asked why. He said he was interested only in "serious" (read expensive) programs. We continued the discussion and I educated him about DesignCAD. He learned that the inexpensive DesignCAD could do a lot of things the very expensive programs like HP's ME-30, Solid Works, Pro Engineer and such couldn't do. For example, some (all?) of these $10,000 to $20,000 programs couldn't generate 3D machine threads and DesignCAD could! Expensive cow pies.
When Upperspace sold DesignCAD to IMSI in 2003 I figured that was the end of DesignCAD because IMSI owned TurboCAD, a competitor to DesignCAD for inexpensive CAD packages. I expected IMSI to kill DesignCAD and just use the mailing list to try to sell TurboCAD, but fortunately they didn't.
Since then we have seen continuous development of DesignCAD, although IMSI has put far more effort and money into TurboCAD. Too bad, because DesignCAD has a far superior user interface, in my opinion.
DesignCAD version 15.3 was a pinnacle in program development. It was almost bug free and rock solid. Unfortunately, after that most of the experienced programmers left DesignCAD, and things went downhill for a while. V16 was so bad that we threw away all of our copies - I never installed it.
V17 was a bit better, but still buggy. But shadows were introduced in V17 and that was a major improvement for 3D rendering.
Back in the V18 beta development days a new experimental rendering engine was introduced. However other changes to the program added so many bugs the renderer was abandoned and all programming effort went into fixing the bugs. The big problem was a switch over from the older DesignCAD way of dealing with dimensions to the new code making DesignCAD compatible with th AutoCRUD dimensioning system. As usual, the DesignCAD dimensions were far more versatile and easier to use than AutoCRUD's system, so this was a step backwards for ease of use, but it was an improvement in allowing dimensioned drawings to be exchanged with other CAD programs. The rendering package never resurfaced.
V19 was buggy. V20 fixed a lot of the bugs. V21 was better, and V22 better still. I think V23.0 is probably as reliable as V15.3, and a lot of very useful features have been added.
The latest big change is an effort to eliminate the ancient Windows 3 display code and replace it with the up to date RedSDK package. Every time a new version of Windows comes out the old display code has to be patched. As a consequence it has dozens of bugs. The change over to RedSDK will be painful for the programmers and beta testers, but it should bring major improvements to the program. IMSI has already incorporated RedSDK into TurboCAD.
Thanks to DT, magic, prl, Bob P and Pearco for corrections and additions.