During mitosis in cultured newt pneumocytes, one or more chromosomes may become positioned well removed (greater than 50 microns) from the polar regions during early prometaphase. As a result, these chromosomes are delayed for up to 5 h in forming an attachment to the spindle. The spatial separation of these chromosomes from the polar microtubule-nucleating centers provides a unique opportunity to study the initial stages of kinetochore fiber formation in living cells. Time-lapse Nomarski-differential interference contrast videomicroscopic observations reveal that late-attaching chromosomes always move, upon attachment, into a single polar region (usually the one closest to the chromosome). During this attachment, the kinetochore region of the chromosome undergoes a variable number of transient poleward tugs that are followed, shortly thereafter, by rapid movement of the chromosome towards the pole. Anti-tubulin immunofluorescence and serial section EM reveal that the kinetochores and kinetochore regions of nonattached chromosomes lack associated microtubules. By contrast, these methods reveal that the attachment and subsequent poleward movement of a chromosome correlates with the association of a single long microtubule with one of the kinetochores of the chromosome. This microtubule traverses the entire distance between the spindle pole and the kinetochore and often extends well past the kinetochore. From these results, we conclude that the initial attachment of a chromosome to the newt pneumocyte spindle results from an interaction between a single polar-nucleated microtubule and one of the kinetochores on the chromosome. Once this association is established, the kinetochore is rapidly transported poleward along the surface of the microtubule by a mechanism that is not dependent on microtubule depolymerization. Our results further demonstrate that the motors for prometaphase chromosome movement must be either on the surface of the kinetochore (i.e., within the corona but not the plate), distributed along the surface of the kinetochore microtubules, or both.