The relative risk of death by calendar date of diagnosis was investigated in a population-based incident cohort of 845 (463 males:382 females) IDDM diagnosed in Leicestershire before the age of 17 years between 1940 and 1989. The mortality status of 844 (99.9%) patients was determined as of the 31 December 1991, representing 14,346 person-years of risk. Trends in relative risk of death were investigated using Cox proportional hazards modelling for within cohort comparisons and age/sex and calendar time adjusted standardized mortality ratios (SMR) using generalized linear modelling for external comparisons. Median age at diagnosis was 10 years (range 3 months to 16 years); median duration of diabetes 15 years (range 1-51 years). Forty-four patients had died (5.2%; median age at death 31 years, range 11-51 years). A further four patients died at presentation (within 24 h) from ketoacidosis and are excluded from all analyses. Calendar date of diagnosis was found to be an important predictor of mortality. Adjusting for attained age there was evidence of a decline in relative risk of death with calendar date of diagnosis of 3.4% (95% CI, 0.005-6.9%) per annum, equivalent to a 32% fall per decade (95% CI, 5-51%), or 84% (95% CI, 21-97) from 1940 to 1989. The data are consistent with a large fall in mortality between the 1940s and 1950s representing over 50% of the total reduction in mortality between 1940 and 1991. Neither sex nor age at diagnosis were significant predictors of mortality. Over the study period 1940-89 the SMR (male and female combined) fell from 981 (541-1556) to 238 (60-953) relative to the general population. This population-based study shows that the prognosis for Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus has improved markedly over the period 1940-1991.