The MIT Press traces its origins back to 1926 when MIT published under its own name a lecture series entitled Problems of Atomic Dynamics given by the visiting German physicist and later Nobel Prize winner, Max Born. Six years later, MIT's publishing operations were first formally instituted by the creation of an imprint called Technology Press in 1932. This imprint was founded by James R. Killian, Jr., at the time editor of MIT's alumni magazine and later to become MIT president. Technology Press published eight titles independently, then in 1937 entered into an arrangement with John Wiley & Sons in which Wiley took over marketing and editorial responsibilities. In 1962 the association with Wiley came to an end after a further 125 titles had been published. The press acquired its modern name after this separation, and has since functioned as an independent publishing house.
A European marketing office was opened in 1969, and a Journals division was added in 1972. In the late 1970s, responding to changing economic conditions, the publisher narrowed the focus of their catalog to a few key areas, initially architecture, computer science and artificial intelligence, economics, and cognitive science.
In January 2010 the MIT Press published its 9000th title, and in 2012 the Press celebrated its 50th anniversary, including publishing a commemorative booklet on paper and online.
In 1981 the MIT Press published its first book under the Bradford Books imprint, Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology by Daniel C. Dennett.
In 2018, the Press and the MIT Media Lab launched the Knowledge Futures Group to develop and deploy open access publishing technology and platforms.
In 2019, the Press launched the MIT Press Reader, a digital magazine that draws on the Press's archive and family of authors to produce adapted excerpts, interviews, and other original works. The publication describes itself as one which "aims to illuminate the bold ideas and voices that make up the Press’s expansive catalog, to revisit overlooked passages, and to dive into the stories that inspired the books".
The MIT Press also operates the MIT Press Bookstore showcasing both its front and backlist titles, along with a large selection of complementary works from other academic and trade publishers. The retail storefront was formerly located next to a subway entrance to Kendall/MIT station in the heart of Kendall Square, but has been temporarily moved to 301 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a short distance north of the MIT Museum near Central Square. Once extensive construction around its former location is completed, both the Bookstore and the MIT Museum will move to a new building adjacent to the subway entrance.
The Bookstore offers customized selections from the MIT Press at many conferences and symposia in the Boston area, and sponsors occasional lectures and book signings at MIT.
The Bookstore is also known for its periodic "Warehouse Sales" offering deep discounts on surplus, damaged, and returned books and journals from its own catalog, as well as remaindered books from other publishers.
The Press uses a colophon or logo designed by its longtime design director, Muriel Cooper, in 1962. The design is based on a highly abstracted version of the lower-case letters "mitp", with the ascender of the "t" at the fifth stripe and the descender of the "p" at the sixth stripe the only differentiation. It later served as an important reference point for the 2015 redesign of the MIT Media Lab logo by Pentagram.