IPython was starting in 2001 by Fernando Perez while he was a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. IPython as we know it today grew out of the following three projects:
Here is how Fernando describes the early history of IPython:
When I found out about IPP and LazyPython I tried to join all three into a unified system. I thought this could provide a very nice working environment, both for regular programming and scientific computing: shell-like features, IDL/Matlab numerics, Mathematica-type prompt history and great object introspection and help facilities. I think it worked reasonably well, though it was a lot more work than I had initially planned.