All muscle movements, including breathing, walking, and fine motor skills rely on the function of the spinal motor neuron to transmit signals from the brain to individual muscle groups. Loss of spinal motor neuron function underlies several neurological disorders for which treatment has been hampered by the inability to obtain sufficient quantities of primary motor neurons to perform mechanistic studies or drug screens. Progress towards overcoming this challenge has been achieved through the synthesis of developmental biology paradigms and advances in stem cell and reprogramming technology, which allow the production of motor neurons in vitro. In this Primer, we discuss how the logic of spinal motor neuron development has been applied to allow generation of motor neurons either from pluripotent stem cells by directed differentiation and transcriptional programming, or from somatic cells by direct lineage conversion. Finally, we discuss methods to evaluate the molecular and functional properties of motor neurons generated through each of these techniques.