The immunoglobulin heavy chain variable region (VH) genes of the mouse have been categorized into families based upon sequence homology. Utilizing the RNA colony blot assay we have determined the expression of eight of these families in B cell colonies derived from either surface immunoglobulin positive (sIg+) adult spleen B cells or sIg- fetal liver pre-B cells. We demonstrate, based upon the analysis of greater than 6000 individual colonies, that VH gene usage is a characteristic of the mouse strain studied. C57BL/6 mice most frequently (45%) utilize family VHJ558, the largest VH family, whereas BALB/c mice most frequently (22%) utilize family VH7183, the most JH proximal family in BALB/c mice. Moreover, colonies derived from sIg- fetal liver derived precursors show similar patterns, suggesting that selection based on exogenous antigen is not an important parameter in determining VH gene family usage.