Owing to the intensive research activity on protein synthesis, little attention was paid in the 1950s and 1960s to protein degradation. However, work by my group and others between 1970 and 1990 led to the identification of the ubiquitin-dependent degradation system. We found that this system contains three types of enzymes: E1 ubiquitin--activating enzyme, E2 ubiquitin--carrier enzyme and E3 ubiquitin--protein ligase. The sequential action of these enzymes leads to conjugation of ubiquitin to proteins and then in most cases to their degradation. This review briefly tells the story of how this pathway was discovered describing the main findings that during the years allowed us to draw the complex picture we have now.