The origin of FriCAS is in IBM laboratories. About 1965 J. Griesmer from IBM started the Scratchpad project. In 1976 the Scratchpad team decided to develop a new system with a novel architecture under name Scratchpad II. Around 1982 the Spad language took shape quite similar to current form. During 1980-s Scratchpad II grow as internal IBM project. Scratchpad II was a big system and due to memory requirements could run only on biggest machines.
In 1992 IBM decided to sell the system to NAG and NAG changed name to Axiom and begun marketing it. NAG ported Axiom to run on top of Codemist Common Lisp (CCL), which dramatically reduced memory requirements, so that Axiom could run on PC class computers (but 16 Mb required memory meant that it was limited to largest PC).
For various reasons Axiom did not satify NAG hopes and around 1998 system developement stopped and in 2001 Axiom was withdrown from the market. Fortunatly NAG decided to release Axiom to the public under open source licence. In 2002 Tim Daly received Axiom sources from NAG and started open-source Axiom project. Developement of Axiom moved slowely, concentrating on build system. Build system was a nontrivial problem as during commercial times Axiom/Scratchpad II required having running system for recompilation -- open source version dropped this requirement.
In 2007 after serious disagreement about developement strategy Waldek Hebisch forked Axiom creating FriCAS. Shortly tereafter Gabriel Dos Reis forked Axiom second time creating Open Axiom. Tim Daly continues his work keeping Axiom name. FriCAS had several releases each bringing some incremental improvement. Today (in 2013) majority of FriCAS code is from period before 1998. In the src/algebra subdirectory, which hosts mathematical functionality about 25% of code was added during FriCAS time (part of the added code was created earlier, but was not included in Axiom).