Mycobacterium kansasii can cause serious pulmonary disease. It belongs to a group of closely-related species of non-tuberculous mycobacteria known as the M. kansasii complex (MKC). Here, we report a population genomics analysis of 358 MKC isolates from worldwide water and clinical sources. We find that recombination, likely mediated by distributive conjugative transfer, has contributed to speciation and on-going diversification of the MKC. Our analyses support municipal water as a main source of MKC infections. Furthermore, nearly 80% of the MKC infections are due to closely-related M. kansasii strains, forming a main cluster that apparently originated in the 1900s and subsequently expanded globally. Bioinformatic analyses indicate that several genes involved in metabolism (e.g., maintenance of the methylcitrate cycle), ESX-I secretion, metal ion homeostasis and cell surface remodelling may have contributed to M. kansasii's success and its ongoing adaptation to the human host.