Chemists Ching Wan Tang and Steven Van Slyke at Eastman Kodak built the first practical OLED device in 1987.
This device used a two-layer structure with separate hole transporting and electron transporting layers such that recombination and light emission occurred in the middle of the organic layer; this resulted in a reduction in operating voltage and improvements in efficiency.
Research into polymer electroluminescence culminated in 1990, with J. H. Burroughes et al. at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, UK, reporting a high-efficiency green light-emitting polymer-based device using 100 nm thick films of poly(p-phenylene vinylene).
Moving from molecular to macromolecular materials solved the problems previously encountered with the long-term stability of the organic films and enabled high-quality films to be easily made.
Subsequent research developed multilayer polymers and the new field of plastic electronics and OLED research and device production grew rapidly. White OLEDs, pioneered by J. Kido et al. at Yamagata University, Japan in 1995, achieved the commercialization of OLED-backlit displays and lighting.
In 1999, Kodak and Sanyo had entered into a partnership to jointly research, develop, and produce OLED displays. They announced the world's first 2.4-inch active-matrix, full-color OLED display in September of the same year.
In September 2002, they presented a prototype of a 15-inch HDTV format display based on white OLEDs with colour filters at the CEATEC Japan.
Manufacturing of small molecule OLEDs was started in 1997 by Pioneer Corporation, followed by TDK in 2001 and Samsung-NEC Mobile Display (SNMD), which later became one of the world's largest OLED display manufacturers - Samsung Display, in 2002.
The Sony XEL-1, released in 2007, was the first OLED television. Universal Display Corporation, one of the OLED materials companies, holds a number of patents concerning the commercialization of OLEDs that are used by major OLED manufacturers around the world.
On 5 December 2017, JOLED, the successor of Sony and Panasonic's printable OLED business units, began the world's first commercial shipment of inkjet-printed OLED panels.