Class I heat shock genes (HSGs) code for molecular chaperones which play a major role in the bacterial response to sudden increases of environmental temperature by assisting protein folding. Quantitative reverse transcriptase real-time PCR gene expression analysis of the food-borne pathogen Clostridium botulinum grown at 37°C showed that the class I HSGs grpE, dnaK, dnaJ, groEL, and groES and their repressor, hrcA, were expressed at constant levels in the exponential and transitional growth phases, whereas strong downregulation of all six genes was observed during stationary phase. After heat shock from 37 to 45°C, all HSGs were transiently upregulated. A mutant with insertionally inactivated hrcA expressed higher levels of class I HSGs during exponential growth than the wild type, followed by upregulation of only groES and groES after heat shock. Inactivation of hrcA or of dnaK encoding a major chaperone resulted in lower maximum growth temperatures than for the wild type and reduced growth rates under optimal conditions compared to the wild type. The dnaK mutant showed growth inhibition under all tested temperature, pH, and NaCl stress conditions. In contrast, the growth of an hrcA mutant was unaffected by mild temperature or acid stress compared to the wild-type strain, indicating that induced class I HSGs support growth under moderately nonoptimal conditions. We show that the expression of class I HSGs plays a major role for survival and growth of C. botulinum under the stressful environmental conditions that may be encountered during food processing or growth in food products, in the mammalian intestine, or in wounds.