Despite a history of remarkable scientific achievements in microbiology and therapeutics, tuberculosis (TB) continues to pose an extraordinary threat to human health. Case finding and treatment of TB disease are the principal means of controlling transmission and reducing incidence. This review presents a historical perspective of active case finding (ACF) of TB, detailing case detection strategies that have been used over the last century. This review is divided into the following sections: mass radiography, house-to-house surveys, out-patient case detection, enhanced case finding, high-risk populations and cost-effectiveness. The report concludes with a discussion and recommendations for future case finding strategies. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these methods will help inform and shape ACF as a TB control policy in the twenty-first century.