We have developed a model of low-inoculum Streptococcus pneumoniae infection in infant rats. We challenged 4-day-old Sprague-Dawley pups via intraperitoneal or intrapulmonary injection of S. pneumoniae serotypes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6b, 7f, 9v, 14, 19f, and 23f. To achieve bacteremia with low inocula, it was necessary to passage the isolates in rats. Inocula of the 10 S. pneumoniae serotypes producing bacteremia in 50% or more animals ranged from 1 to 400 CFU. Virulence was similar by intraperitoneal and intrapulmonary routes. Lung specimens from animals challenged by the intrapulmonary route grew S. pneumoniae and demonstrated histologic evidence of focal infection. Meningitis was detected in 20 to 50% of bacteremic animals, and mortality invariably followed bacteremia within 24 to 48 h. This model of intrapulmonary infection uses low inocula of S. pneumoniae and results in bacteremia, meningitis, and death in infant rats.