Emerging markets trigger great expectations. Many foreign multinationals are eager to exploit the entrepreneurial opportunities potentially related to less developed but fast growing markets. This is not a new phenomenon. Multinationals from more developed countries have for long searched for opportunities in less developed markets and have dealt with the related challenges. Foreign environments with different needs and capabilities, unstable institutions and policies, stark fluctuations in the macroeconomic environment and unrealistic expectations are just some of the obstacles for ‘turning potential into profits.’ The history of multinational enterprises (MNEs) knows many examples of economies with these characteristics similar to modern understandings of ‘emerging markets.’ This special issue analyzes foreign multinationals in emerging markets from a historical perspective. It seeks to understand changes and continuities in the opportunities and challenges less developed markets presented for MNEs, and in the various ways in which their managers responded to these. Rather than relying on the ‘emerging market’ label, we ask (1) why managers perceived certain markets as ‘emerging’ and which expectations they had when investing in these markets, (2) which challenges they faced there, and (3) how they subsequently addressed them. By tracing and comparing these investments and their consequences over time (and space), we hope to shed more light on managerial decisions and understand to what extent they were shaped by the specific context or, possibly, had more of a timeless nature – with the findings ultimately intended to help inform contemporary decision-making. This introduction to the special issue describes the framework for the following six papers on foreign multinationals in emerging markets since the nineteenth century.