Norwescon grew out of the desire of its founders to host a Worldcon in Seattle in 1981. However, there was one major issue — at the time, most of Pacific Northwest fandom had little or no experience in running cons. Norwescon was therefore originally formed as an effort to get some practice for Worldcon. Realizing they would need a large group of people from which to draw volunteers, the founders also started the Northwest Science Fiction Society or NWSFS. From these humble beginnings, Norwescon came into being.
The first Norwescon was held in a then-unincorporated area now known as the city of SeaTac, Washington. It featured Theodore Sturgeon as its Guest of Honor (GoH) and drew just over 400 attendees. The next year, Norwescon moved up the street to the Hyatt Hotel, the site of the only Seattle-sponsored Worldcon. The Hyatt was the site of Norwescons II through VII, at which point the convention began feeling the pressures of growth; it was then moved to SeaTac's Red Lion Inn. With growth came associated problems, and after two years at the Red Lion, Norwescon was forced to find a new location on short notice. The convention moved back to the Hyatt for a convention called Alternacon. The next year brought a big move to the city of Tacoma, where the Sheraton hosted Norwescon for five years. 1993 brought the convention to the Bellevue area, and in 1994 Norwescon returned to the site of the old Red Lion Inn, now known as the DoubleTree Hotel SeaTac.
Norwescon's Guest of Honor list has grown over the years, starting with a list of three: Writer Guest of Honor, Fan Guest of Honor, and Toastmaster. The list now includes artists, scientists, volunteers and special guests as well as many other professionals. Norwescon has always made an effort to invite guests who are deserving of the honor, and has thus had a prestigious line of guests.
Norwescon also hosts the Philip K. Dick Award, given to the author of the best original novel appearing in the previous year in paperback form without prior publication as a hardback. The Philip K. Dick award was first presented at Norwescon in 1984, and was given to Tim Powers for his novel The Anubis Gates.
- Norwescon I - March 25–26, 1978; GoH: Theodore Sturgeon; FGoH John D. Berry; TM Alan E. Nourse; Attendance 415
- Norwescon II - March 23–25, 1979; GoH: Philip José Farmer; FGoH Loren MacGregor; TM Elizabeth A. Lynn; Attendance 725
- Norwescon III - March 28–30, 1980; GoH: Alfred Bester; FGoH Fred Pohl; TM Theodore Sturgeon; Attendance 732
- Norwescon IV - March 27–29, 1981; GoH: Samuel R. Delany; FGoH Jack, Pauline, and Tilda Palmer; TM Philip Klass (William Tenn); Attendance 1410
- Norwescon V - March 18–21, 1982; GoH: Thomas Disch; AGoH Michael Whelan; FGoH Bob Shaw; TM Richard A. Lupoff; Attendance 1371
- Norwescon VI - March 17–20, 1983; GoH: Jack Williamson; AGoH Richard Powers; FGoH Art Widner; TM Algis Budrys; Attendance ?
- Norwescon VII - March 22–25, 1984; GoH: L. Sprague & Catherine Crook de Camp; AGoH Don Maitz; FGoH Jack Speer; TM Marta Randall; Attendance ~1700
- Norwescon VIII - March 14–17, 1985; GoH: Brian Aldiss; AGoH Jack Gaughan (did not attend); FGoH Rich Brown; TM Robert Silverberg; Science GoH Gregory Benford; Attendance ?
- Norwescon IX - March 20–23, 1986; GoH: Anne McCaffrey; AGoH Kelly Freas; FGoH Greg Bennett; TM Spider Robinson; Science GoH James Oberg; Attendance "HUGE" (estimates top 3000)
- Norwescons's Alternacon - March 26–29, 1987; AGoH Dan Reeder; GoH: Orson Scott Card; FGoH Marty & Robbie Cantor; TM David Hartwell; Attendance <1700
- Norwescon X - March 24–27, 1988; GoH: Marion Zimmer Bradley; AGoH Rick Sternbach; FGoH Jon Gustafson; TM David Gerrold; Special GoH Avram Davidson; Attendance 2032
- Norwescon XI - March 23–26, 1989; GoH: Algis J. Budrys; AGoH David Mattingly; FGoH Mike Glyer; TM Steven Barnes; Science GoH Dr. Alan E. Nourse; Special GoH Avram Davidson; Attendance 2292
- Norwescon XII - March 29-April 1, 1990; GoH: Roger Zelazny; AGoH David Cherry; FGoH Pat Mueller; TM Dan Reeder; Science GoH Dr. John G. Cramer; Volunteer GoH Joe Wheeler Attendance 2274
- Norwescon XIV - March 28–31, 1991; GoH: Stanley Schmidt; AGoH James Warhola; FGoH Becky Thomson; TM Edward Bryant; Special GoH Forrest J. Ackerman; Volunteer GoH Joe Laybourn; Attendance 2320
- Norwescon XV - March 26–29, 1992; GoH: Poul Anderson; AGoh Alan Gutierrez; FGoH Willie Siros; TM J. Steven York; Volunteer GoH Celia Smith; Attendance ~2400
- Norwescon XVI - March 25–28, 1993; GoH: Betty Ballantine (did not attend); AGoH Janny Wurts; FGoH Pat Mueller; TM Bonnie Baker; Science GoH Chris Jonientz-Trisler (Sunday only); Special GoH Anne McCaffrey (did not attend); surprise GoH Mike Jittlov; Volunteer GoH Teresa Janssen; Attendance ~2430
- Norwescon XVII - March 31-April 3, 1994; GoH: Kurtz & Scott MacMillan; AGoH Darrell K. Sweet; FGoH Peggy Rae Pavlat; TM Janna Silverstein; Attendance ~2680
- Norwescon XVIII - April 6–9, 1995; GoH: Robert Silverberg; AGoH James Gurney; TM Dragon Dronet; Science GoH Dr. Jane Robinson; Volunteer GoH Danny Rudesill; Attendance ~2675
- Norwescon XIX - April 4–7, 1996; GoH: A.C. Crispin; AGoH Tom Kidd; FGoH Kitty Canterbury; TM Janna Silverstein; Volunteer GoH David Valentine; Attendance ~2590
- Norwescon XX - March 27–30, 1997; GoH: Larry Niven, A. E. van Vogt; AGoH Vincent Di Fate; FGoH Brad Foster; Science GoH Dr. Robert L. Forward; Volunteer GoH Glenda Hedden; Attendance ?
- Norwescon XXI - April 9–12, 1998; GoH: Neil Gaiman; AGoH Brian Froud; FGoH John Lorentz, Ruth Sachter; Science GoH Patricia MacEwen; Volunteer GoH Anthony Ward; Attendance ?
- Norwescon XXII - April 1–4, 1999; GoH: Harry Turtledove; AGoH Richard Hescox; FGoH Jack Chalker, Eva Whitley; Science GoH Jack Horner; Volunteer GoH Susan Allen; Spotlighted Publisher Ministry of Whimsy; Attendance
- Norwescon XXIII - April 20–23, 2000; GoH: David Brin, Gregory Benford; AGoH Barclay Shaw; FGoH Bjo and John Trimble; Spotlighted Publisher HarperCollins and Eos represented by Jennifer Brehl; Attendance 2765
- Norwescon XXIV - April 12–15, 2001; GoH: Connie Willis; AGoH Bob Eggleton; FGoH Charles N. Brown; Special GoH James P. Hogan; Special GoH Dragon Dronet; Spotlighted Publisher Bantam Dell Publishing Group represented by Anne Lesley Groell; Attendance 3054
- Norwescon XXV - March 28–31, 2002; GoH: Jack Vance; AGoH Brom; FGoH Andrew I. Porter; Spotlighted Publisher WOTC Publishing; Attendance 2787
- Norwescon XXVI - April 17–20, 2003; GoH: Jane Yolen; AGoH Jim Burns; Science GoH Geoffrey Landis; Special GoH Michael Whelan; Spotlighted Publisher Del Rey Books; Attendance 2718
- Norwescon XXVII - April 8–11, 2004; GoH Mike Resnick; AGoH Don Dixon; Special GoH Joe Haldeman; Science GoH Ben Bova; Spotlighted Publisher Baen Books represented by Jim Baen; Attendance 2610
- Norwescon XXVIII - March 24–27, 2005; GoH Michael Bishop; AGoH John Howe; Special GoH Alan Dean Foster; Science GoH Suzette Haden Elgin; Spotlighted Publisher TOR Books represented by Tom Doherty; Attendance 2603
- Norwescon XXIX - April 13–16, 2006; GoH Lois McMaster Bujold; AGoH Donato Giancola; TM Robert J. Sawyer; Spotlighted Publisher DAW Books represented by Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert; Attendance 2758
- Norwescon XXX - April 5–8, 2007; GoH Kim Stanley Robinson; AGoH Luis Royo; Science GoH Donna Shirley; Spotlighted Publisher The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction represented by Gordon Van Gelder; Attendance 3024
- Norwescon XXXI - March 20–24, 2008; GoH Dan Simmons; AGoH Ciruelo; Special GoH Naomi Novik; Attendance 3030
- Norwescon XXXII - April 9–12, 2009; GoH R.A. Salvatore; AGoH Todd Lockwood; Special GoH Geno Salvatore; Spotlighted Publisher Wizards of the Coast; Attendance 3115
- Norwescon XXXIII - April 1–4, 2010; GoH Vernor Vinge; AGoH John Jude Palencar; Science Guest John G. Cramer; Special GoH Cory Doctorow; Spotlighted Publisher Tor Books; Attendance 3349
- Norwescon 34 - April 21–24, 2011; GoH Patricia McKillip; AGoH Kinuko Craft; PSIence Guest Marie D. Jones; Special Guest Jim Butcher; Special Guest Shannon Butcher; Spotlight Publisher PYR; Attendance ~3500
- Norwescon 35 - April 5–8, 2012; GoH Stephen Baxter; AGoH John Picacio; Science Guest Bridget Landry; Spotlight Publisher DAW Books; Attendance ~3100
- Norwescon 36 - March 28–31, 2013; Writer GoH Catherine Asaro; Artist GoH Lee Moyer; Science GoH Edward Tenner; Special GoH Gardner Dozois; Norwescon 36 Grandmaster Terry Brooks; Spotlight Publisher Baen Books; Attendance ~3200
- Norwescon 37 - April 17–20, 2014; Writer GoH Michael Moorcock; Artist GoH Robert Gould; Science GoH Catherine S. Plesko; Costuming GoH Anima! X; Special GoH Seanan McGuire; Spotlight Publisher 47North
- Norwescon 38 - April 2–5, 2015; Writer GoH George R. R. Martin; Artist GoH Julie Dillon; Science GoH Amy Mainzer; Spotlight Publisher Random House
- Norwescon 39 - March 24–27, 2016; Writer GoH Tanya Huff; Artist GoH Janny Wurts; Science GoH Dr. William Hartmann; Spotlight Publisher DAW Books
- Norwescon 40 - April 13–16, 2017; Writer GoH Ian McDonald; Artist GoH Cory & Catska Ench; Science GoH Ethan Siegel; Spotlight Publisher Angry Robot Books
Norwescon 41 will be held March 29–April 1, 2018, in the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport in SeaTac, Washington. The theme will be "Uncovering Mysteries" and will feature the following Guests of Honor:
- Writer - Ken Liu
- Artist - Galen Dara
- Science - Mathew Wedel
- Spotlight Publisher - Green Ronin Publishing