The earliest known discovery of the crater was made in 1892 by Julius Henderson, a nearby rancher. For many years it was believed to be a "blow-out hole", caused by gas trapped below the surface and erupting due to pressure. In the 1920's D. Moreau Barringer, whose father identified and owned the famous Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona, and Dr. E. H. Sellards of the University of Texas, recognized the depression as a meteorite crater. From 1939 thru 1941, Dr. Sellards and Mr. Glen Evans, also with the University of Texas, directed scientific studies and extensive excavation of the crater, which is very evident today. This work ceased with the outbreak of World War II. The crater was located on lands given by the State of Texas to the Texas & Pacific Railroad for building the rail line though West Texas in the 1890's. In 1979 the crater site was donated by the Texas Pacific Land Trust to Ector County.
Meteor craters are among the rarest and most interesting of land features. Astrophysicists have observed the source of meteoric bodies which strike our Earth, originate within our Solar System, probably from the asteroid belt located between the planets Mars and Jupiter.
In 1999 the Texas legislature appropriated funds to build facilities to house an on-site caretaker and a Visitor's Center. The facilities were completed and opened to the public early 2002. In 1965 the National Park Service declared the Odessa Meteor Crater a National Natural Landmark.