The He I 10830 Å triplet gives a unique view of the solar chromosphere. Digital spectroheliograms have been made regularly since early 1974 using this line and the NSO Vacuum Telescope on Kitt Peak. For many purposes (detection of coronal holes, giant two-ribbon flares, and dark point events) these images are sufficient. A Sun-as-a-star signal is also produced by averaging all the pixels in each daily image. To calibrate this ‘irradiance’ signal in terms of line equivalent width, a comparison is made with integrated sunlight spectrophotometric measurements obtained less frequently. After correction for the effects of water vapor blends, we find a linear relation between the two measurements. The daily averages have been assembled into a time series covering nearly two solar cycles. This time series shows cycle modulation of about ±30% and rotational modulation of about ±10%. The general variation is similar to that of other activity indices but with some interesting small differences. Since images are available, it has been possible to decompose the full disk index into components due to plages, filaments, coronal holes and background. At all times during the cycle, most of the signal comes from the background but most of the variability from plages.