The course of development of the auditory brainstem response (ABR) in rat was examined. Pure tone pip stimuli of 3, 8 and 40 kHz at intensities up to 106 dB sound pressure level peak equivalent were presented to anesthetized rats on postnatal days (PND) 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20, 24, 36, 70 and 96. The peak-to-peak amplitude and the order of appearance of each wave was examined at each stimulus parameter. The first response to presentation of an auditory stimulus was observed on PND 12. This response was demonstrated to be of non-neural origin and presumed to be a summating potential representing hair cell function in the cochlea. The first neural responses, observed on PND 14, to 3- and 8-kHz tones only, appeared as two or more waves. High-frequency (40 kHz) tones did not elicit any substantive neural response on PND 14, but neural activity to this stimulus was observed consistently by PND 16. By PND 20, 4 waves were present consistently at all test frequencies, and by PND 36 the full adult complement of 5 vertex positive waves was recorded. The frequency-dependent sequential appearance of waves during development lends support to data charting the development of frequency mapping in the cochlea. The amplitude of waves I and II at 8 kHz decreased as the animal matured, while waves III-V generally showed an initial increase in amplitude at all test frequencies through PND 24 followed by a gradual amplitude decrease to adult levels. Possible sources for developmental changes in amplitude are discussed.