The adequate production of blood cells is maintained by a set of immature hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) located in the bone marrow after birth. HSC are able to reconstitute the hematopoietic system in disease-related bone marrow failure and bone marrow aplasia. Nowadays, HSC cells can be mobilized from the bone marrow into the peripheral blood using hematopoietic cytokines, allowing a convenient harvest of these cells for clinical transplantation. This review outlines the development of the hematopoietic system in the embryo and in adults and the characterization, enumeration, purification and ex vivo expansion of HSC for clinical use. Future directions include the genetic manipulation of HSC and the identification/expansion of bone marrow-derived stem cells capable of generating non-hematopoietic tissues.