Nearly all eukaryotic mRNAs end with a poly(A) tail that is added to their 3' end by the ubiquitous cleavage/polyadenylation machinery. The only known exceptions to this rule are metazoan replication-dependent histone mRNAs, which end with a highly conserved stem-loop structure. This distinct 3' end is generated by specialized 3' end processing machinery that cleaves histone pre-mRNAs 4-5 nucleotides downstream of the stem-loop and consists of the U7 small nuclear RNP (snRNP) and number of protein factors. Recently, the U7 snRNP has been shown to contain a unique Sm core that differs from that of the spliceosomal snRNPs, and an essential heat labile processing factor has been identified as symplekin. In addition, cross-linking studies have pinpointed CPSF-73 as the endonuclease, which catalyzes the cleavage reaction. Thus, many of the critical components of the 3' end processing machinery are now identified. Strikingly, this machinery is not as unique as initially thought but contains at least two factors involved in cleavage/polyadenylation, suggesting that the two mechanisms have a common evolutionary origin. The greatest challenge that lies ahead is to determine how all these factors interact with each other to form a catalytically competent processing complex capable of cleaving histone pre-mRNAs.