Many models of evolution calculate the rate of evolution by multiplying the rate at which new mutations originate within a population by a probability of fixation. Here we review the historical origins, contemporary applications, and evolutionary implications of these "origin-fixation" models, which are widely used in evolutionary genetics, molecular evolution, and phylogenetics. Origin-fixation models were first introduced in 1969, in association with an emerging view of "molecular" evolution. Early origin-fixation models were used to calculate an instantaneous rate of evolution across a large number of independently evolving loci; in the 1980s and 1990s, a second wave of origin-fixation models emerged to address a sequence of fixation events at a single locus. Although origin fixation models have been applied to a broad array of problems in contemporary evolutionary research, their rise in popularity has not been accompanied by an increased appreciation of their restrictive assumptions or their distinctive implications. We argue that origin-fixation models constitute a coherent theory of mutation-limited evolution that contrasts sharply with theories of evolution that rely on the presence of standing genetic variation. A major unsolved question in evolutionary biology is the degree to which these models provide an accurate approximation of evolution in natural populations.