The vertebrate lung is elegantly patterned to carry out gas exchange and host defense. Similar to other organ systems, endogenous stem and progenitor cells fuel the organogenesis of the lung and maintain homeostasis in the face of normal wear and tear. In the context of acute injury, these progenitor populations are capable of effecting efficient repair. However, chronic injury, inflammation, and immune rejection frequently result in pathological airway remodeling and serious impairment of lung function. Here, we review the development, maintenance, and repair of the vertebrate respiratory system with an emphasis on the roles of epithelial stem and progenitor cells. We discuss what is currently known about their identities, lineage relationships, and the mechanisms that regulate their differentiation along various lineages. A deeper understanding of these progenitor populations will undoubtedly accelerate the discovery of improved cellular, genetic, molecular, and bioengineered therapies for lung disease.