Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a protein whose importance to research and its elucidation of fundamental mechanisms in cell and neurobiology far outstrips its basic physiological roles. It was the first of a broad class of cell regulators, largely acting through autocrine and paracrine interactions which will be described herein. It was of similar significance in establishing the identity and unique roles of neurotrophic factors in the development and maintenance of the peripheral and central nervous systems. Finally, it contributed to many advances in the elaboration of cell surface receptor mechanisms and intracellular cell signaling. As such, it can be considered to be a “molecular Rosetta Stone”. In this brief review, the highlights of these various studies are summarized, particularly as illustrated by their coverage in the 13 NGF international meetings that have been held since 1986.