The Istituto Idrografico della Marina was founded over a century ago, following a Royal Decree dated December 26, 1872.  The new office, whose name was originally Ufficio Idrografico della Regia Marina, was supposed to replace the Ufficio Centrale del Servizio Scientifico della Marina, in Livorno.
The Office was established in Genoa, in the old Fortress of San Giorgio, former seat of the Astronomical Observatory. The choice of Genoa seemed only natural, not only in view of the seafaring tradition of the old Maritime Republic, but also because the city housed the Admiralty and the Scuola Superiore Navale, a school for hydrographers and nautical engineers.

The first director of the Office was Commander Giovanni Battista Magnaghi, who was well known in the scientific world.
A Royal Decree dated December 14, 1899 changed the name of the Office into that of Istituto Idrografico della Regia Marina, which has not changed since, except for the “Regia (Royal)”, which was dropped when Italy became a Republic in 1946.