When the International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894, the two constituent American members, James Edward Sullivan and William Milligan Sloane, formed a committee to organize the participation of U.S. athletes in the inaugural modern Olympic Games to be contested two years later in Athens, Greece. The formal committee, initially named the American Olympic Association, was formed at a meeting in November 1921 at the New York Athletic Club.

In 1940, the AOA changed its name to the United States of America Sports Federation and, in 1945, changed it again to the United States Olympic Association. Public Law 805, which granted the USOA a federal charter, was enacted in 1950 and enabled the USOA to solicit tax-deductible contributions as a private, nonprofit corporation. In 1961, when major constitutional revisions were made, the name of the USOA was changed to its current designation – United States Olympic Committee. 

In 1978, the passage of The Amateur Sports Act (now The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act – revised in 1998) as federal law appointed the USOC as the coordinating body for all Olympic-related athletic activity in the United States. It specifically named the USOC coordinating body for athletic activity in the United States directly relating to international competition, including the sports on the programs of the Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games. The USOC was also tasked with promoting and supporting physical fitness and public participation in athletic activities by encouraging developmental programs in its member organizations.

The act included provisions for recognizing National Governing Bodies for the sports on the Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games programs and gave the USOC the general authority, on a continuing basis, to review matters related to the recognition of NGBs in the act. This public law not only protects the trademarks of the IOC and USOC, but also gives the USOC exclusive rights to the words "Olympic," "Olympiad" and "Citius, Altius, Fortius," as well as Olympic-related symbols in the United States.

The law also requires all governance councils of the USOC and NGBs to have at least 20 percent membership and voting power by "recent and active" athletes.

The USOC moved its headquarters from New York City to Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 1, 1978. Thanks to the generous support of the City of Colorado Springs and its residents, the USOC headquarters moved to its present location in downtown Colorado Springs in April 2010, while the previous site (two miles away) remains a U.S. Olympic Training Center.