The station was opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR, now the Piccadilly Line) on 15 December 1906 with the name Holborn (Kingsway). Kingsway was a new road, cutting south from High Holborn through an area of cleared slums to Strand. The suffix was dropped from tube maps in the 1960s.
The GNP&BR constructed its station where it crossed the Central London Railway (CLR, now the Central Line) tunnels running under High Holborn. The CLR had been operating since 1900, and its nearest station, British Museum, was 250 metres to the west.
Despite being built and operated by separate companies, it was common for the underground railways to plan routes and locate stations so that interchanges could be formed between services. This had been done by other lines connecting with the CLR stations at Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road, but an interchange station was not initially constructed between the GNP&BR and the CLR because the tunnel alignment to British Museum station would not have been suitable for the GNP&BR's route to its Strand station (later called Aldwych). The junction between High Holborn and the newly constructed Kingsway was also a more prominent location for a station than that chosen by the CLR. The Central Line platforms were not opened to form an interchange between the lines until 25 September 1933.
The opening of the GNP&BR branch from Holborn to Strand station was delayed until 30 November 1907 by the construction of the tramway subway.
In its original configuration, the GNP&BR station had four platforms. Two platforms catered for through-running services, the other two platforms serving the Aldwych branch. One of these was a through platform whose track connected north of the station to the northbound track to Russell Square, the other was a bay platform where trains terminated.
To enable the southbound tunnel to avoid the branch tunnels to Aldwych, it was constructed at a lower level to the other tunnels and platforms. The tunnel towards Covent Garden (at this point heading southwest) passes under the Aldwych tunnels.
Unlike other stations designed by Leslie Green for the GNP&BR, the station frontage of Holborn was constructed in stone rather than the standard red glazed terra-cotta. This was due to planning regulations imposed by the London County Council which required the use of stone for façades in Kingsway. The station entrance and exit sections of the street façade were constructed in granite and the other parts were built in the same style but using Portland stone.
A proposal to enlarge the tunnels under High Holborn to create new platforms at Holborn station for the CLR and to abandon British Museum station was originally included in a private bill submitted to parliament by the CLR in November 1913, although the First World War prevented any works taking place.
Like many other central London Underground stations, Holborn was modernised in the early 1930s. The station frontages on Kingsway and High Holborn were partially reconstructed to modernist designs by Charles Holden. The lifts were removed and a spacious new ticket hall was provided giving access to a bank of four escalators down to an intermediate concourse at the level of the new Central Line platforms. These are the second longest escalators on the Underground network, after those at Angel tube station. A second bank of three escalators continues down to the Piccadilly Line platforms.
Competing as it did with the tram services along Kingsway, the Aldwych branch was little used even from its opening. In the first year of operation an occasional through service was run, northbound only, to Finsbury Park, but this ended in 1908 and following that the branch was operated as a shuttle service between Holborn and Aldwych, primarily working from the through platform.
The bay platform (Platform 6) was rarely used and was taken out of operation in 1917 and converted into rooms for use, at various times, as offices, air-raid shelters, store rooms, an electrical sub-station and a war-time hostel. The eastern of the two tunnels to Aldwych was also decommissioned.
During World War II the branch tunnels and Aldwych station were temporarily closed (between 1940 and 1946) and used for storage and as an air-raid shelter.
After the war, the service was restored as a rush hour service only. In 1993, London Underground announced that the cost of replacing the lifts at Aldwych was uneconomical and the station was scheduled for closure. After a brief postponement, Aldwych station closed on 30 September 1994.
Since 1994, the branch's remaining platform at Holborn (Platform 5) has been used to test mock-up designs for new platform signage and advertising systems.
The 13:17 train from Liverpool Street to White City, standing in the westbound platform, was run into by the 12:49 Hainault to Ealing Broadway train which had been tripped by the emergency system outside the station but failed to stop in time to avoid collision.
The driver of the rear train sustained injuries and was helped from his cab by a passenger but no serious injuries were caused in the accident. Disruption of services occurred as it was necessary to cut the two cabs from the trains before they could be removed from the area.
An inquiry concluded that the accident was caused by the driver of the rear train failing to control his train.
On 8 December 1988, a 17 year old Turkish student was found stabbed to death at the station.
On 21 October 1997, an 11-year old boy was dragged to death by a train when a toggle on his anorak was trapped in the closing doors.
The station was featured in the music video of the 1983 song, New Song by Howard Jones, the video for Leftfield's 1996 hit Release The Pressure and in the video for Suede's 1997 song, Saturday Night. The video clearly shows the 'Kingsway' title still in situ on the Underground roundels.
The station was also featured in the music video of the 1998 song, Turn Back Time by Aqua. Much of the video was filmed on the abandoned platform 5.