The mitotic spindle has a crucial role in ensuring the accurate segregation of chromosomes into the two daughter cells during cell division, which is paramount for maintaining genome integrity. It is a self-organized and dynamic macromolecular structure that is constructed from microtubules, microtubule-associated proteins and motor proteins. Thirty years of research have led to the identification of centrosome-, chromatin- and microtubule-mediated microtubule nucleation pathways that each contribute to mitotic spindle assembly. Far from being redundant pathways, data are now emerging regarding how they function together to ensure the timely completion of mitosis. We are also beginning to comprehend the multiple mechanisms by which cells regulate spindle scaling. Together, this research has increased our understanding of how cells coordinate hundreds of proteins to assemble the dynamic, precise and robust structure that is the mitotic spindle.