This review provides a synthesis that combines data from classical experimentation and recent advances in our understanding of early eye development. Emphasis is placed on the events that underlie and direct neural retina formation and lens induction. Understanding these events represents a longstanding problem in developmental biology. Early interest can be attributed to the curiosity generated by the relatively frequent occurrence of disorders such as cyclopia and anophthalmia, in which dramatic changes in eye development are readily observed. However, it was the advent of experimental embryology at the turn of the century that transformed curiosity into active investigation. Pioneered by investigators such as Spemann and Adelmann, these embryological manipulations have left a profound legacy. Questions about early eye development first addressed using tissue manipulations remain topical as we try to understand the molecular basis of this process.