The enormous diversity among bacterial colonies of different species, and among colonies of the same species under different environmental conditions, has long interested microbiologists. Yet it is only comparatively recently that quantitative, rather than merely conceptual, models have been developed to explain the dynamics of bacterial colony formation and growth. Understanding the fundamental processes that drive these dynamics is still at a rudimentary level, though a number of advances have been made. This review traces the history of bacterial colony growth modelling, from the pioneering work of Pirt in the late 1960s, through experimental investigations by Wimpenny and his colleagues in the 1970s, and further models extending from that work to understand complex bacterial colony formations. It concludes with recent results which find that both diameter and height of the colony follow simple power-law behaviour over the entire active growth period (from a few hours to several days old), and that the results of Pirt, Wimpenny and their contemporaries can be re-interpreted.