DNA complementary to purified ovalbumin messenger RNA (cDNA ov) was synthesized in vitro using RNA-directed DNA olymerase from avian myeloblastosis virus. This cDNAov was then employed in hybridization assays to determine the effect of estrogen on the number of ovalbumin mRNA (MRNAov) molecules per tubular gland cell of the chick oviduct. The changes in mRNAov were measured in immature chicks during primary stimulation, after hormone withdrawal and again following secondary stimulation of the chick oviduct with estrogen. The number of mRNAov per tubular gland cell was also determined for egg-laving hen. Daily estrogen administration to the immature chick resulted in growth of the oviduct, differentiation of epithelial cells to tubular glands, and a corresponding increase in the concentration of mRNAov in the tubular gland cell from essentially zero before estrogen administration to 48,000 molecules per cell after 18 days of estrogen treatment. Upon withdrawal of estrogen from the chick, the mRNAov concentration decreased to a level of 0-10 molecules/tubular gland cell after 12 days. Readministration of a single dose of estrogen to these chicks resulted in a dramatic and rapid increase in the concentration of mRNAov. Within 30 min, the mRNAov concentration approximately doubled and by 29 hr the tubular gland cell concentration had reached 17,000 molecules. The initial transcription rate for the ovalbumin gene was 12 mRNAov molecules/min. With these data, we have calculated that the half-life of the ovalbumin messinger RNA should be on the order of 40-60 hr and that the steady-state concentration of mRNAov per tubular gland cell was 50,000 molecules. Similarly, each messenger RNA molecule was translated approximately 50,000 times during its lifetime in order to effect the necessary quantity of ovalbumin required for egg production. These data substantiate the hypothisis that estrogen exerts its primary action at the level of transcription to effect the synthesis of nascene mRNA molecules which in turn code for synthesis of hormone-induced proteins.