Ion Chromatography (IC) methods were first reported around 1850 when H.Thomson and J.T. Way used various clays as an ion exchange and extracted labile calcium, magnesium, and ammonium ions. In 1927, the first zeolite column was used to remove Mg2+ and Ca2+ from water. Cation exchange using a sulfonated polystyrene/divinylbenzene column was developed in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan project. Very large columns were used to concentrate and purify the radioactive nucleotides required for the atom bomb. In the late 1940s anion exchange was performed with the attachment of a quaternary ammonia on the polystyrene/divinylbenzene support. The industrialization of the technique occurred in the 1970s when Small et al (Small, H.; Stevens, T.S.; Bauman, W.C. Anal Chem, 1975, 47, 1801) developed a suppressor column that enabled conductivity detection.
For a more thorough description of the history see Small, H J Chem Ed, 2004, 81(9), 1277-1284.