Science Olympiad began when Dr. Gerard J. Putz, Regional Science Consultant for Macomb County Intermediate School District in Michigan, invited John C. "Jack" Cairns, State Science Supervisor for Delaware Department of Instruction, to share the Science Olympiad program with Macomb County educators on March 29, 1982. The invitation was prompted by an article on the Delaware Science Olympiad (The Science Teacher, December 1977) written by Douglas Macbeth, past Delaware State Science Supervisor, that was brought to Dr. Putz's attention by Michigan Science Teachers Association President David Larwa. The Delaware Science Olympiad was patterned after similar events in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. After two successful workshops at the Macomb Intermediate School District (March 1982) and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate (January 1983), science education leaders in Southeastern Michigan planned two very successful tournaments at Lawrence Institute of Technology (April 1983) and Oakland University (May 1984).

These two tournaments were so successful that Dr. Putz convinced Mr. Cairns that they should share the program with the rest of the nation. The Science Olympiad program was presented to the Council of State Science Supervisors at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Boston in 1984 and sponsors were solicited from the conference exhibitors. Dr. Putz's experience with the Army (Lt. Col. Air Defense Artillery, retired) and the understanding of its continued need for a high-tech modern work force led him to the Army's booth. After much discussion, the Army decided to sponsor a National Leadership Seminar to determine the level of interest before they committed to sponsoring the first Science Olympiad National Tournament. Leaders from all 50 states and Puerto Rico were invited to this first seminar at the St. Clair Inn in Michigan in the summer of 1984. Event supervisors, coaches and students so impressed the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) executives and the N.W. Ayer advertising agency that the Army decided to sponsor Science Olympiad's national founding.  The first annual Science Olympiad National Tournament was hosted by Michigan State University in May, 1985, with 17 states participating. Currently, there are nearly 7,800 secondary schools from 50 states participating, with an additional 10,000 or more elementary schools holding Science Olympiad tournaments or hands-on events.