In 1904, Richard Semon introduced the term “engram” to describe the neural substrate for storing memories. An experience, Semon proposed, activates a subset of cells that undergo off-line, persistent chemical and/or physical changes to become an engram. Subsequent reactivation of this engram induces memory retrieval. Although Semon’s contributions were largely ignored in his lifetime, new technologies that allow researchers to image and manipulate the brain at the level of individual neurons has reinvigorated engram research. We review recent progress in studying engrams, including an evaluation of evidence for the existence of engrams, the importance of intrinsic excitability and synaptic plasticity in engrams, and the lifetime of an engram. Together, these findings are beginning to define an engram as the basic unit of memory.