The first haploid angiosperm, a dwarf form of cotton with half the normal chromosome complement, was discovered in 1920, and in the ninety years since then such plants have been identified in many other species. They can occur either spontaneously or can be induced by modified pollination methods in vivo, or by in vitro culture of immature male or female gametophytes. Haploids represent an immediate, one-stage route to homozygous diploids and thence to F(1) hybrid production. The commercial exploitation of heterosis in such F(1) hybrids leads to the development of hybrid seed companies and subsequently to the GM revolution in agriculture. This review describes the range of techniques available for the isolation or induction of haploids and discusses their value in a range of areas, from fundamental research on mutant isolation and transformation, through to applied aspects of quantitative genetics and plant breeding. It will also focus on how molecular methods have been used recently to explore some of the underlying aspects of this fascinating developmental phenomenon.