Creation at Netscape
The first popular web browser with a graphical user interface, Mosaic, was released in 1993. Accessible to non-technical people, it played a prominent role in the rapid growth of the nascent World Wide Web. The lead developers of Mosaic then founded the Netscape corporation, which released a more polished browser, Netscape Navigator, in 1994. This quickly became the most-used.
During these formative years of the Web, web pages could only be static, lacking the capability for dynamic behavior after the page was loaded in the browser. There was a desire in the flourishing web development scene to remove this limitation, so in 1995, Netscape decided to add a scripting language to Navigator. They pursued two routes to achieve this: collaborating with Sun Microsystems to embed the Java programming language, while also hiring Brendan Eich to embed the Scheme language.
Adoption by Microsoft
JScript was first released in 1996, alongside initial support for CSS and extensions to HTML. Each of these implementations was noticeably different from their counterparts in Navigator. These differences made it difficult for developers to make their websites work well in both browsers, leading to widespread use of "best viewed in Netscape" and "best viewed in Internet Explorer" logos for several years.
The rise of JScript
The standards process continued for a few years, with the release of ECMAScript 2 in June 1998 and ECMAScript 3 in December 1999. Work on ECMAScript 4 began in 2000.
Meanwhile, Microsoft gained an increasingly dominant position in the browser market. By the early 2000s, Internet Explorer's market share reached 95%. This meant that JScript became the de facto standard for client-side scripting on the Web.
Microsoft initially participated in the standards process and implemented some proposals in its JScript language, but eventually it stopped collaborating on Ecma work. Thus ECMAScript 4 was mothballed.
Growth and standardization
During the period of Internet Explorer dominance in the early 2000s, client-side scripting was stagnant. This started to change in 2004, when the successor of Netscape, Mozilla, released the Firefox browser. Firefox was well received by many, taking significant market share from Internet Explorer.
In 2005, Mozilla joined ECMA International, and work started on the ECMAScript for XML (E4X) standard. This led to Mozilla working jointly with Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe Systems), who were implementing E4X in their ActionScript 3 language, which was based on an ECMAScript 4 draft. The goal became standardizing ActionScript 3 as the new ECMAScript 4. To this end, Adobe Systems released the Tamarin implementation as an open source project. However, Tamarin and ActionScript 3 were too different from established client-side scripting, and without cooperation from Microsoft, ECMAScript 4 never reached fruition.
In July 2008, these disparate parties came together for a conference in Oslo. This led to the eventual agreement in early 2009 to combine all relevant work and drive the language forward. The result was the ECMAScript 5 standard, released in December 2009.
Ambitious work on the language continued for several years, culminating in an extensive collection of additions and refinements being formalized with the publication of ECMAScript 6 in 2015.
The ECMAScript draft specification is currently maintained openly on GitHub, and editions are produced via regular annual snapshots. Potential revisions to the language are vetted through a comprehensive proposal process. Now, instead of edition numbers, developers check the status of upcoming features individually.