The development of the Pelamis wave energy converter from its conceptual origins to its commercial deployment is reviewed. The early emphasis on designing for survivability and favourable power absorption characteristics focused attention towards a self-referenced articulated line-absorber in an attenuator orientation. A novel joint and control system allow the machine to be actively tuned to provide a resonant response power amplification in small and moderate seas. In severe seas, the machine is left in its default or natural condition, which is benign and non-resonant. Hydraulic rams at the joints provide the primary power take-off with medium-term storage in high-pressure accumulators yielding smooth electricity generation. Land-based modular construction requiring minimal weather windows for rapid offshore installation is an essential engineering feature necessary for viable commercialization. The second-generation Pelamis designs built for E.ON and ScottishPower Renewables are presented, and the scope for further cost reduction and performance enhancements are explained.