ORIENTATION: Human resource (HR) management is recognised as a profession worldwide, especially in countries that are forerunners in the field. RESEARCH PURPOSE: The main purpose of this study is to record the historical development of HR management as a profession. This study will provide a platform for evaluating the professional standing of HR management in South Africa. MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: The motivation for the study is to record the historical development of HR management in South Africa because this is long overdue. RESEARCH DESIGN, APPROACH AND METHOD: The researchers achieved triangulation by examining archived documents they obtained from the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) and semi-structured interviews with five founding members of the SABPP who were involved during the whole period of the study. The founding members also verified the researchers’ interpretations of the information they obtained from the documents and the interviews. The researchers used content analysis and coding to analyse the data they obtained from the archived documents and the semi-structured interviews. MAIN FINDINGS: The history of HR management in South Africa shows that it meets the four founding pillars of professionalism. PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: The study also gives HR professionals confidence because HR management is achieving recognition as a profession. CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: The main contribution of the study is that it has recorded the history of HR management as a profession in South Africa properly for the first time.