The CDG has existed since 1988. At the time, it was established under the name Christian Doppler Gesellschaft as a group instrument of Österreichische Industrieholding AG (ÖIAG). Its goal was the establishment of research units intended to pursue basic research at a high level. The selected themes were to be of medium to long-term benefit for the companies of the group. Financing was provided by the group management.
The restructuring of ÖIAG from an industrial group to an investment and privatisation agency in 1993 also brought about a reform of the CDG. It was to be open to all Austrian companies and to process specific issues of business at a high level. In 1995, a new financing basis was created and the association structurally reorganised. The association was simultaneously placed under the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs. Since then, the CDG has been a model that supports cooperation between science and business in the area of application-oriented basic research and is financed jointly by companies and the public purse.
Since the founding of the CDG, the number of CD Laboratories and involved commercial partners has grown constantly. In 2012, the CDG acquired an additional area of activity with the management of the JR Centre programme at universities of applied sciences.