The pre-chemotherapy literature represents an impressive body of evidence that clarifies important epidemiological concepts in childhood tuberculosis. Reports describe the major transitions in tuberculosis, from exposure to infection and from infection to disease (morbidity and mortality), without the influence of chemotherapy. Children with household exposure to a sputum smear-positive source case experienced the greatest risk of becoming infected and of developing subsequent disease. Household exposure to a sputum smear-negative source case or non-household exposure still posed an appreciable, although greatly reduced, risk. Infection in children less than 2 years of age indicated a probable household source case. The majority of older children who were infected did not have a household source identified, and presumably became infected in the community. The annual risk of infection (ARI) was not constant across all ages, but seemed to increase during periods of widening social contact. Infants and adolescents were the groups at highest risk for disease development and death following primary infection.