The course of hypertension development in young spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) was studied by the measurement of changes in systolic blood pressure (BP), body weight, and heart rate (HR) at 2, 3, 4, and 6 wk of age. To achieve this, we compared inbreeding lines of SHR and Wistar-Kyoto rats (WKY) to determine if differences in BP, body weight, or HR were present among inbreeding lines of the same strain or between strains. The effect of these differences on the eventual level of BP was then assessed. We found that BP began to diverge between SHR and WKY at 4 wk of age. Significant differences in systolic BP (24 mmHg) between SHR inbreeding lines at 4 wk of age did not affect the BP at 8 wk (172 vs. 170 mmHg). Pulse pressure was significantly higher in SHR than in WKY at 4 wk of age. HR was elevated in SHR over age-matched WKY at 3 wk of age and positively correlated to the level of BP attained by individual animals at 6 wk ( P = 0.037). Moreover, WKY inbreeding lines showing elevated HR developed higher BP (145 vs. 127 mmHg) at 10–12 and 20 wk of age. The prehypertensive tachycardia in SHR was investigated further and found to result from an increased intrinsic HR. Because HR at 3 wk is a genetic trait that can be partitioned into inbreeding lines, and inbreeding lines most expressive of this trait showed the highest eventual BP, we conclude that prehypertensive tachycardia may be an important first step during hypertension development in SHR. Moreover, early elevations in HR are highly predictive ( r = 0.41) of hypertension occurrence in the animal population studied.