The discovery of DNA from a new type of human papillomavirus (HPV) more than three decades ago provided our first glimpse at the agent that causes cervical cancer and served as a catalyst for the explosive growth in HPV-related research that followed. Since then, dozens of new HPV types have been discovered, routes of transmission have been delineated, estimates of prevalence and incidence have been described, carcinogenic properties have been demonstrated, and prophylactic HPV vaccines have been developed and deployed. It is now well-established that certain HPV types, prominently HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause cancers of the uterine cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, oral cavity, and oro-pharynx; cancers that are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. More recent findings indicate that widespread adolescent HPV vaccination could substantially reduce the global burden of such HPV-related cancers. Presented below is one epidemiologist's perspective on events that contributed to these scientific achievements.