The history of the tetrazolium salts and formazans goes back 100 years, to when Friese (1875) reacted benzene diazonium nitrate with nitromethane, to produce a cherry-red "Neue Verbindung". This was the first formazan. 19 years later, Von Pechmann and Runge (1894) oxidised a formazan to produce the first tetrazolium salt. Many hundreds of tetrazolium salts and formazans were prepared in the following years, but only a handful have found applications in biological research. This article has attempted to describe the properties of these compounds, and to illustrate how the tetrazolium salt-formazan reaction has been exploited to serve an extremely wide variety of functions.