I’d like to get you right to code, so we’ll keep this clean and tidy (a description never given to the web standards creation process). Herein contains the shortest (and incompletest) history of SVG.
SVG has been around about 15 years. The first public draft of SVG was introduced in 1999 and it didn’t become a working draft until a few months later. A year and a half after first introducing SVG, the W3C issued SVG as a candidate recommendation in August 2000.
The work on SVG moved quickly and multiple “working drafts” were published in just a couple years.1 Some designers and developers were actively using SVG but it didn’t pick up a lot of steam among web designers and developers until browser support improved.
Now that all modern browsers support SVG, use of it for website graphics has increased. The wide adoption of Responsive Web Design and increased focus on quality tools and practices for front-end development has only increased the use of SVG in web development projects.
The current version of SVG is SVG 1.1, which was published as a W3C Recommendation in August 2011.
For more information on the history of SVG, I encourage you to read the Secret Origin of SVG page on the W3C wiki. It talks about some of the influences of SVG including PGML, VML, and the Hyper Graphics Markup Language.
Or, if you’re into not having a lot of fun at all, I suggest this thorough history of SVG’s early days (1999-2004): W3C Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) - History