It has been one and a half centuries since Enrico Sertoli published the seminal discovery of the testicular ‘nurse cell’, not only a key cell in the testis, but indeed one of the most amazing cells in the vertebrate body. In this review, we begin by examining the three phases of morphological research that have occurred in the study of Sertoli cells, because microscopic anatomy was essentially the only scientific discipline available for about the first 75 years after the discovery. Biochemistry and molecular biology then changed all of biological sciences, including our understanding of the functions of Sertoli cells. Immunology and stem cell biology were not even topics of science in 1865, but they have now become major issues in our appreciation of Sertoli cell's role in spermatogenesis. We end with the universal importance and plasticity of function by comparing Sertoli cells in fish, amphibians, and mammals. In these various classes of vertebrates, Sertoli cells have quite different modes of proliferation and epithelial maintenance, cystic vs. tubular formation, yet accomplish essentially the same function but in strikingly different ways.