The variability of the course of infection by Streptococcus pneumoniae is well known but poorly understood. Most animal models of pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis have been forced to use site-specific bacterial inoculation to mimic localized human infection. This study examined the differences in the progression of disease-causing strains D39 (serotype 2), A66.1 (serotype 3) and TIGR4 (serotype 4) using isolates transformed with the Gram-positive lux transposon cassette, Tn4001 luxABCDE Km(r). Expression of the lux operon results in bioluminescence, permitting the detection of the bacteria within a living animal while using a CCD camera. Mice infected intranasally with A66.1 developed only pneumonia, those challenged with D39 experienced high-grade sepsis, while TIGR4 infection resulted in low-grade pneumonia and bacteremia ultimately progressing to meningitis. Quantitative analysis of bacterial titers confirmed these patterns, which were consistent across different lineages of mice. Mice anesthetized with ketamine and xylazine developed more severe forms of the disease compared with isoflurane. These studies unambiguously characterize 3 distinct models of the natural course of pneumococcal infection. Mapping these models provides a framework for detailed molecular modeling of pneumococcal virulence determinants at specific stages of disease.