Practitioners increasingly use the business model concept, but our understanding of its origins and development is limited. Using a combination of inductive text analysis and historical narrative, we trace the evolution of the concept from 1990 to 2016. Our analysis shows that the concept began in semiconductors, computers, and e-business firms as they transitioned away from vertically integrated organizations towards greater specialization and horizontal collaboration. The concept expanded in usage and became institutionalized but its precise application was quite varied. Paradoxically this ambiguity in meaning facilitated sensemaking and strategizing across a variety of industries responding to changes in to technology, globalization, and customer demands in a post-Chandlerian economy.