Significant investigators and aspects in the past century of insect paleontology are briefly reviewed. Despite the pervasive influence of the paleoentomologist Willi Hennig in systematic biology, the study of fossil insects remains more descriptive than most other paleontological areas. Hypotheses are reviewed on relationships and chronologies of early divergences in insects (Paleozoic, Lower Mesozoic), particularly living and extinct orders of the lower pterygotes and putative monophyly of the Paleoptera (Odonata + Ephemeroptera). The Dictyoptera (Mantodea, Isoptera, Blattaria) illustrate relationships and discrepencies between stratigraphic record and phylogenetic relationships. Future directions in the field are suggested.