CD19 is a B-lineage-specific transmembrane glycoprotein, the expression of which is maintained on more than 95% B-cell malignancies. This strict lineage restriction makes CD19 an ideal target for immune therapies using chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). Here, we review published phase 1 trials of T cells expressing CARs targeting CD19 and describe briefly the biological questions that they addressed. All patients treated in these trials had relapsed B-cell malignancies, which in many cases were chemorefractory. Nonetheless, major responses have been observed, especially in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Many of these responses were accompanied by a systemic inflammatory reaction syndrome that could be life threatening but was almost always reversible with adequate medical management. Given their remarkable activity, CD19-CAR T cells are likely to be quickly incorporated into the management of B-cell neoplasms; these cells have become the paradigm for similar strategies targeting other cancers.