Translational control is an important strategy by which eukaryotic cells regulate gene expression. Translation is the last step in the flow of genetic information, and regulation at this level allows an immediate and rapid response to changes under physiological conditions. Because the processes of mRNA biogenesis, including transcription, splicing, and export to the cytoplasm, are time consuming, the use of pre-existing mRNAs via the control of translation is advantageous in many circumstances. A prime target of translational control is the initiation factor eIF4E, which recognizes the m7GpppN cap structure present at the 5' end of all nuclear transcribed eukaryotic mRNAs. In this article I describe the discovery of eIF4E, its mechanism of action in translation initiation, and its role in the control of cancer and innate immunity.