A newly available data set of daily precipitation observations was used to study the temporal variability of the frequency of short-duration extreme precipitation events for 1895–2000 in the conterminous United States. Event durations of 1, 5, 10, and 30 day and return periods of 1, 5, and 20 year were analyzed. For all combinations of duration and return period, heavy precipitation frequencies were relatively high during the late 19th/early 20th Centuries, decreasing to a minimum in the 1920s and 30s, followed by a general increase into the 1990s. The frequencies at the beginning of the 20th Century were nearly as high as during the late 20th Century for some combinations of duration and return period, suggesting that natural variability cannot be discounted as an important contributor to the recent high values. Extensive quality control of data and Monte Carlo testing was performed to provide confidence in the reality of the early period high frequencies.