Bacterial protein secretion is a complex multi-stage reaction that is central to membrane and cell wall biosynthesis and essential for cell viability. An impressive array of experimental tools have been used to dissect this reaction into discreet sub-reactions. Synthesis of these data reveals a fascinating cascade of inter- and intra-molecular interactions that select, sort and target secretory polypeptides to the membrane and then spend metabolic energy to bias their vectorial movement across the membrane plane through a lipid-inaccessible proteinaceous environment. Transmembrane crossing is catalyzed by protein translocase, an astonishingly dynamic molecular machine. The unusual molecular features of the Sec pathway components allows a handful of proteins to catalyze the export of hundreds of secretory polypeptide substrates with astonishing fidelity. Knowledge of the molecular details of the secretion pathway allows us to rationally exploit these features in heterologous protein production biotechnologies and in the development of novel antibiotics.