Staphylococcus aureus is notorious for its ability to become resistant to antibiotics. Infections that are caused by antibiotic-resistant strains often occur in epidemic waves that are initiated by one or a few successful clones. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) features prominently in these epidemics. Historically associated with hospitals and other health care settings, MRSA has now emerged as a widespread cause of community infections. Community or community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) can spread rapidly among healthy individuals. Outbreaks of CA-MRSA infections have been reported worldwide, and CA-MRSA strains are now epidemic in the United States. Here, we review the molecular epidemiology of the epidemic waves of penicillin- and methicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus that have occurred since 1940, with a focus on the clinical and molecular epidemiology of CA-MRSA.