An important issue in conservation biology and the study of evolution is the extent to which inbreeding depression can be reduced or reversed by natural selection. If the deleterious recessive alleles causing inbreeding depression can be ‘purged’ by natural selection, outbred populations that have a history of inbreeding are expected to be less susceptible to inbreeding depression. This expectation, however, has not been realized in previous laboratory experiments. In the present study, we used Drosophila melanogaster as a model system to test for an association between inbreeding history and inbreeding depression. We created six ‘purged’ populations from experimental lineages that had been maintained at a population size of 10 male–female pairs for 19 generations. We then measured the inbreeding depression that resulted from one generation of full-sib mating in the purged populations and in the original base population. The magnitude of inbreeding depression in the purged populations was approximately one-third of that observed in the original base population. In contrast to previous laboratory experiments, therefore, we found that inbreeding depression was reduced in populations that have a history of inbreeding. The large purging effects observed in this study may be attributable to the rate of historical inbreeding examined, which was slower than that considered in previous experiments.