The tight junction (TJ) is an essential component of the differentiated epithelial cell required for polarised transport and intercellular integrity and signalling. Whilst much can be learnt about how the TJ is constructed and maintained and how it functions using a wide range of cellular systems, the mechanisms of TJ biogenesis within developmental models must be studied to gain insight into this process as an integral part of epithelial differentiation. Here, we review TJ biogenesis in the early mammalian embryo, mainly considering the mouse but also including the human and other species, and, briefly, within the amphibian embryo. We relate TJ biogenesis to inherent mechanisms of cell differentiation and biosynthesis occurring during cleavage of the egg and the formation of the first epithelium. We also evaluate a wide range of exogenous cues, including cell-cell interactions, protein kinase C signalling, gap junctional communication, Na+/K+-ATPase and cellular energy status, that may contribute to TJ biogenesis in the embryo and how these may shape the pattern of early morphogenesis.