Early in the last century August Krogh embarked on a series of seminal studies to understand the connection between tissue metabolism and mechanisms by which the cardiovascular system supplied oxygen to meet those needs. Krogh recognized that oxygen was supplied from blood to the tissues by passive diffusion and that the most likely site for oxygen exchange was the capillary network. Studies of tissue oxygen consumption and diffusion coefficient, coupled with anatomical studies of capillarity in various tissues, led him to formulate a model of oxygen diffusion from a single capillary. Fifty years after the publication of this work, new methods were developed which allowed the direct measurement of oxygen in and around microvessels. These direct measurements have confirmed the predictions by Krogh and have led to extensions of his ideas resulting in our current understanding of oxygenation within the microcirculation. Developments during the last 40 years are reviewed, including studies of oxygen gradients in arterioles, capillaries, venules, microvessel wall and surrounding tissue. These measurements were made possible by the development and use of new methods to investigate oxygen in the microcirculation, so mention is made of oxygen microelectrodes, microspectrophotometry of haemoglobin and phosphorescence quenching microscopy. Our understanding of oxygen transport from the perspective of the microcirculation has gone from a consideration of oxygen gradients in capillaries and tissue to the realization that oxygen has the ability to diffuse from any microvessel to another location under the conditions that there exists a large enough PO(2) gradient and that the permeability for oxygen along the intervening pathway is sufficient.