Chondrocyte density in articular cartilage is known to change with the development and growth of the tissue and may play an important role in the formation of a functional extracellular matrix (ECM). The objective of this study was to determine how initial chondrocyte density in an alginate hydrogel affects the matrix composition, its distribution between the cell-associated (CM) and further removed matrix (FRM) fractions, and the tensile mechanical properties of the developing engineered cartilage. Alginate constructs containing primary bovine chondrocytes at densities of 0, 4, 16, and 64 million cells/ml were fabricated and cultured for 1 or 2 weeks, at which time structural, biochemical, and mechanical properties were analyzed. Both matrix content and distribution varied with the initial cell density. Increasing cell density resulted in an increasing content of collagen and sulfated-glycosaminoglycan (GAG) and an increasing proportion of these molecules localized in the CM. While the equilibrium tensile modulus of cell-free alginate did not change with time in culture, the constructs with highest cell density were 116% stiffer than cell-free controls after 2 weeks of culture. The equilibrium tensile modulus was positively correlated with total collagen (r2=0.47, p<0.001) and GAG content (r2=0.68, p<0.001), and these relationships were enhanced when analyzing only those matrix molecules in the CM fraction (r2=0.60 and 0.72 for collagen and GAG, respectively, each p<0.001). Overall, the results of this study indicate that initial cell density has a considerable effect on the developing composition, structure, and function of alginate-chondrocyte constructs.