During the development of the pituitary gland, distinct hormone-producing cell types arise from a common population of ectodermal progenitors, providing an instructive model system for elucidating the molecular mechanisms of patterning and cell type specification in mammalian organogenesis. Recent studies have established that the development of the pituitary occurs through multiple sequential steps, allowing the coordinate control of the commitment, early patterning, proliferation, and positional determination of pituitary cell lineages in response to extrinsic and intrinsic signals. The early phases of pituitary development appear to be mediated through the activities of multiple signaling gradients emanating from key organizing centers that give rise to temporally and spatially distinct patterns of transcription factor expression. The induction of these transcriptional mediators in turn acts to positionally organize specific pituitary cell lineages within an apparently uniform field of ectodermal progenitors. Ultimately, pituitary cell types have proven to be both specified and maintained through the combinatorial interactions of a series of cell-type-restricted transcription factors that dictate the cell autonomous programs of differentiation in response to the transient signaling events.