The macrocyclic lactones enjoy a position of prominence in the control of parasites, and their history may be of interest, and even of use, in an age in which the search for chemotherapeutic agents has been transformed by modern technology. Much of their history has been recorded piecemeal in a wide variety of publications. The present review provides additional detail, and offers a personal perspective on the history of ivermectin and related avermectins. Brief notes are included on the subsequent development of other macrocyclic lactones. Milbemycin preceded the avermectins as a macrocyclic lactone of agricultural importance, but was used for a different purpose. Development of the avermectins arose from the isolation, in the laboratories of the Kitasato Institute, of a novel soil-dwelling bacterium and its transmittal (in 1974) to the laboratories of Merck & Co., Inc. There it was found (in 1975) to produce a potent anthelmintic substance, which was then identified and transmuted by interdisciplinary research into an antiparasitic product. Initially the focus was on its applicability to veterinary science and animal husbandry; and after developmental research by many scientific teams, the product was introduced commercially (in 1981) for the control of endoparasitic nematodes and ectoparasitic arthropods in livestock. Subsequently, special applications in human medicine were developed, and were successfully implemented in partnership with World Health Organization and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).