Streptomyces bacteria have been studied for more than 80 years thanks to their ability to produce an incredible array of antibiotics and other specialized metabolites and their unusual fungal-like development. Their antibiotic production capabilities have ensured continual interest from both academic and industrial sectors, while their developmental life cycle has provided investigators with unique opportunities to address fundamental questions relating to bacterial multicellular growth. Much of our understanding of the biology and metabolism of these fascinating bacteria, and many of the tools we use to manipulate these organisms, have stemmed from investigations using the model species Streptomyces coelicolor and Streptomyces venezuelae. Here, we explore the pioneering work in S. coelicolor that established foundational genetic principles relating to specialized metabolism and development, alongside the genomic and cell biology developments that led to the emergence of S. venezuelae as a new model system. We highlight key discoveries that have stemmed from studies of these two systems and discuss opportunities for future investigations that leverage the power and understanding provided by S. coelicolor and S. venezuelae.