Rickettsioses are caused by species of Rickettsia, a genus comprising organisms characterized by their strictly intracellular location and their association with arthropods. Rickettsia species are difficult to cultivate in vitro and exhibit strong serological cross-reactions with each other. These technical difficulties long prohibited a detailed study of the rickettsiae, and it is only following the recent introduction of novel laboratory methods that progress in this field has been possible. In this review, we discuss the impact that these practical innovations have had on the study of rickettsiae. Prior to 1986, only eight rickettsioses were clinically recognized; however, in the last 10 years, an additional six have been discovered. We describe the different steps that resulted in the description of each new rickettsiosis and discuss the influence of factors as diverse as physicians' curiosity and the adoption of molecular biology-based identification in helping to recognize these new infections. We also assess the pathogenic potential of rickettsial strains that to date have been associated only with arthropods, and we discuss diseases of unknown etiology that may be rickettsioses.