The prevalence of epilepsy in Rochester, Minnesota has been determined for a specific date in each of 5 decennial census years. Individuals with a diagnosis of epilepsy (recurrent unprovoked seizures) who were known to have experienced a seizure or who had received antiepileptic medication in the preceding 5 years were considered active prevalence cases. By this definition, the age-adjusted prevalence per 1,000 population, increased steadily from 2.7 in 1940 to 6.8 in 1980. At each of five prevalence dates, for all prevalence cases, 60% had epilepsy manifest by partial seizures, and 75% had no known etiology. Prevalence was higher for males than females for all except the last prevalence day. After 1950, prevalence tended to increase with advancing age and was highest in the oldest age groups. On the average, the 1980 prevalence cases had epilepsy less than 10 years and greater than 50% had their first diagnosis in the first 20 years of life.