The purpose of this study was to generate stable cell cultures from head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC), and retrospectively analyze the factors associated with successful cell line establishment. Fifty-two HNSCC cell lines were isolated from a series of 199 tumors collected between 1992 and 1997 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Cell lines were characterized at the molecular and cellular level to determine the features associated with cell line formation. Successful cell line formation was dependent on multiple factors, including gene amplification involving chromosomal band 11q13, local and/or regional involvement of lymph nodes, and alcohol usage. The establishment of HNSCC cell lines enriches the resources available for cancer research. Our findings indicate that generation of stable cell lines from HNSCC is biased towards tumors with a poor prognosis. Our 52 stable lines comprise one of the largest series of HNSCC cell lines in the literature, with complete demographic, histopathologic, clinical, and survival data.