The first championship was held in 1927 and Joe Davis helped to organise the event. Matches were held at various venues, and the final took place at Camkin's Hall, Birmingham. Joe Davis won the event, beating Tom Dennis 20–11. His prize money was £6.10s. The highest break of the tournament was 60 by Albert Cope.
In subsequent years, finals were held at various venues. Joe Davis won every year until 1940. Despite an upsurge in interest in snooker there were only two entrants for the 1931 professional championship. The event was staged in the back room of a Nottingham pub, owned by Tom Dennis. The fact that he was playing on his own table didn't help as Joe Davis ran out a 25–21 winner for his fifth consecutive victory.
In 1940, Joe Davis just beat his younger brother Fred 37–36. No tournaments were organised during the remaining years of World War II and it only resumed in 1946 when Joe Davis won again for the 15th time, a record that still stands. Joe Davis never contested the World Championship again, though he continued to play professional snooker.
Snooker then went into a period of decline, and no tournament was held between 1958 and 1963. In 1964, with the approval of the BACC, Rex Williams revived the championship on a challenge basis, a format which lasted until 1968. This meant that matches took place on an irregular basis, sometimes more than once a year. John Pulman completely dominated during this period, overcoming all challengers in a total of seven matches.
Following the formation of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association which took over regulation of the professional game from the BACC, the championship has been staged as a knockout tournament since 1969 on an annual basis, with all the seeded players coming in at the same round. That year it was won by John Spencer, but it was Ray Reardon who was to dominate over the coming years, winning six times between 1970 and 1978.
1976 was the first year the championships were sponsored by the cigarette brand Embassy. The following year, the event moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the BBC started providing major television coverage. The Crucible seats fewer than a thousand people with the front row of seats only a few feet from the players. This was about the time snooker started attracting very large television audiences and for many fans it is synonymous with snooker. The most successful players at the Crucible are Steve Davis, who won six times in the 1980s, and Stephen Hendry, who won seven times in the 1990s. Recently, the tournament has been more open, with six different players winning in the 2000s. In the 1985 final, Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis 18–17 on the final ball of the final frame, in one of the most closely contested matches of all time. It finished at 00:19 but was superseded as the latest finish first by the 2006 final (00:52 BST), then the 2007 final (00:55 BST). However, with an audience of 18.5 million, it remains the most watched programme in the history of BBC2, as well as the record post-midnight audience for any channel in the United Kingdom.
Legislation in 2003 placed restrictions on tobacco advertising, including sponsorship of sporting events. Embassy received special dispensation to continue snooker sponsorship until 2005. In 2006 888.com took over the sponsorship of the event, and they signed a five-year deal, but pulled out after just three years. On 15 April 2009, the World Snooker website announced that Betfred.com would be the new sponsor of the World Championship for the next four years. The event was sponsored by Betfair in 2013, and by Dafabet in 2014. In March 2015, it was announced that Betfred would sponsor the World Championships for the next three years.
On 27 April 2009, it was confirmed that the World Championships would stay at the Crucible for at least another five years (until 2014). On 30 April 2010 it was announced that this agreement had been extended to 2015.
On 23 April 2014, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced a number of changes that would come into effect for the 2015 championship. All living world champions would be extended an opportunity to play in the qualifying rounds. The top 16 seeds would still qualify automatically for the first round at the Crucible, but all non-seeded players would have to start in the first of three qualifying rounds. The overall championship would increase from 128 to 144 players, with the additional places made available to former world champions and players from emerging countries.
On 18 January 2015, it was confirmed that a new deal had been signed by Sheffield City Council and World Snooker, that means the Crucible will continue to host the World Championships until at least 2017. Barry Hearn has stated on a number of occasions that he wishes for the tournament to remain at the Crucible forever, providing it continues to draw large numbers of visitors and revenue to the city of Sheffield. 
The 'modern' era is considered to start in 1969, when the championship reverted to a knock-out tournament format from a challenge format. In the modern game, the best record is that of Stephen Hendry, who won seven times in the 1990s. Steve Davis won six times in the 1980s, as did Ray Reardon in the 1970s.
Cliff Thorburn's 13–12 second round victory over Terry Griffiths in the 1983 championship was completed at 3:51 am, the latest ever finish for a match at the Crucible. The 2007 final between John Higgins and Mark Selby was completed at 00:54 am, the latest finish for a final.
Luca Brecel was the youngest ever player to reach the final tournament in 2012 at the age of 17 years and 35 days. He was also the youngest player to score a century break (116).
Stephen Hendry was the youngest ever champion when he won in 1990 at the age of 21 years and 106 days.
Terry Griffiths (1979) and Shaun Murphy (2005) are the only two players who have won the Championship as qualifiers for the tournament.
Jimmy White has reached six finals, but has never won. The closest he came was 17–18 in 1994 against Stephen Hendry, on his 32nd birthday.
Ken Doherty is the only player to have won the world title at junior, amateur and professional level. Doherty and Stuart Bingham are the only two players to have won both the amateur and professional world championships.
Stephen Hendry holds the record for the longest unbeaten run at the Crucible Theatre. He won the Championship every year between 1992 and 1996, and continued unbeaten until the 1997 final.
John Parrott is the only player to have recorded a whitewash in the final tournament. He beat Eddie Charlton 10–0 in the first round in 1992.
Since the tournament has been held at the Crucible only three players have successfully defended the world title: Steve Davis in 1984, 1988 and 1989, Stephen Hendry from 1993 to 1996 and Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2013. No player has successfully defended his first title at the Crucible, an anomaly often referred to as the Crucible Curse.
^In addition, John Pulman won the (unsanctioned) World Matchplay Championship in 1957 and defended his title in BACC sanctioned challenge matches seven times between 1964 and 1968, effectively making him world champion 8 times over an 11 year period.