Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have long been defined as a cell with the capacity to repopulate the hematopoietic system of a lethally irradiated host. In clinical medicine, this property has been employed to reconstitute an individuals diseased hematopoietic system following ablation with a healthy, normal-functioning hematopoietic system by performing autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplantations. However, despite the widespread utilization of these pragmatic procedures for multiple human bone marrow diseases, much about the basic biology of the HSC and related primitive cells, such as the ontogenic origin of the HSC, the identification of the putative hemangioblast, and the potential of the HSC to contribute to alternative tissues, remains elusive. Basic scientists continue to investigate actively the origin of HSCs during mammalian ontogeny, the stimuli that induce HSCs to divide and differentiate normally, the relationship of HSCs to hemangioblasts, and the potential capacity of HSCs to transdifferentiate to other tissues such as endodermderived liver cells and ectoderm-derived neurons. This article will summarize the historical salient studies that have characterized the HSC and will review the active research currently being conducted to understand and define further the biologic properties and potential faculties of HSCs. The application of these studies to improved therapies for human disease, from leukemia to myocardial infarction, will be discussed.