Until the 18th century, the cattle of the Herefordshire area were similar to other cattle of southern England, being wholly red with a white switch, similar to the modern North Devon and Sussex breeds. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, other cattle (mainly Shorthorns) were used to create a new type of draught and beef cattle which at first varied in color, different herds ranging from yellow to grey and light brown, and with varying amounts of white. However, by the end of the 18th century the white face characteristic of the modern breed was well established, and the modern color was established during the 19th century.
The Hereford is still seen in the Herefordshire countryside today and featured prominently at agricultural shows. The first imports of Herefords to the United States were around 1817 by the politician Henry Clay, with larger importation of the breed beginning in the 1840s.
The Polled Hereford is a hornless variant of the Hereford with the polled gene, a natural genetic mutation that was selected into a separate breed beginning in 1889.
Iowa cattle rancher Warren Gammon capitalized on the idea of breeding Polled Herefords and started the Polled Hereford registry with 11 naturally polled cattle. American Polled Hereford Association (APHA) was formed in 1910. The American Polled Hereford and American Hereford breeds have been combined since 1995, under the same American Hereford Association name.
Many strains of Hereford have used other cattle breeds to import desired characteristics, and this has led to changes in the breed as a whole. However, some strains have been kept separate, and these have retained characteristics of the earlier breed, such as hardiness and thriftiness. The Traditional Hereford is now treated as a minority breed of value for genetic conservation