The polar distribution of the ActA protein on the surface of the Gram-positive intracellular bacterial pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, is required for bacterial actin-based motility and successful infection. ActA spans both the bacterial membrane and the peptidoglycan cell wall. We have directly examined the de novo ActA polarization process in vitro by using an ActA–RFP (red fluorescent protein) fusion. After induction of expression, ActA initially appeared at distinct sites along the sides of bacteria and was then redistributed over the entire cylindrical cell body through helical cell wall growth. The accumulation of ActA at the bacterial poles displayed slower kinetics, occurring over several bacterial generations. ActA accumulated more efficiently at younger, less inert poles, and proper polarization required an optimal balance between protein secretion and bacterial growth rates. Within infected host cells, younger generations of L. monocytogenes initiated motility more quickly than older ones, consistent with our in vitro observations of de novo ActA polarization. We propose a model in which the polarization of ActA, and possibly other Gram-positive cell wall-associated proteins, may be a direct consequence of the differential cell wall growth rates along the bacterium and dependent on the relative rates of protein secretion, protein degradation and bacterial growth.