Nine newspapers collaborated to start the National Spelling Bee in 1925. In 1941, Scripps took over sponsorship of the National Spelling Bee. There was no Scripps National Spelling Bee during the war years of 1943–45.
Co-champions were declared in 1950, 1957, and 1962. Of the 87 champions, 46 have been girls and 41 have been boys.
The program experienced steady growth between the 1920s and the 1970s, and between 1980 and 1990 the number of participants doubled. In recent years the program underwent a second growth spurt — and a significant surge in popularity — thanks to live coverage on ESPN.