In DSM–III–R, pica, with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and rumination disorder of infancy, is accorded the status of a separate eating disorder. However, in the Draft of ICD–10, only anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are listed under eating disorders. Pica in children, and feeding disorder in infancy and childhood, are incorporated with enuresis, encopresis, and feeding, movement and speech disorders in a separate “heterogeneous group of disorders”. Extensive research on the history and terminology of eating disorders from the 16th to the 20th century suggests that, historically, pica was regarded as a symptom of other disorders rather than a separate entity. This paper aimed to locate and assess chronologically significant definitions and accounts of pica, to provide a fuller clinical description of a condition which, despite its current relevance, has received little detailed historical examination, and to give some consideration to the multiple aetiological theories which have been put forward. The historical findings are related to the descriptive criteria for pica in DSM–III–R and Draft ICD–10.