The school opened in the fall of 1962 with 1,418 students. Designed by local architect Anthony Ferrara, it was built on 17 levels, with a center courtyard and a geodesic dome for its gymnasium. A Ford Foundation grant underwrote the design and construction of the dome. During the first school year, Broadway composer and lyricist Meredith Willson visited the school to assist with the production of The Music Man, which he had created. In 1981, a 1,176-seat auditorium was added to the school. In 1992, the geodesic dome and all other buildings except for the auditorium were demolished and construction began on a new school building, which opened in fall 1993.
Daryl Shaw served as the inaugural principal from 1962 until 1975. Jerome Marco was principal from 1975 until his retirement in 2004. Today, the Principal is Alan Goodwin, who was assistant principal for several years before taking his current post.
Five elementary schools feed Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, which in turn feeds Walt Whitman. The elementary schools are Wood Acres, Bannockburn, Burning Tree, Carderock Springs, and Bradley Hills. The Bethesda area is served by Whitman High School, Walter Johnson High School, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
The Black & White is the student-run newspaper. It was established in 1961 and produces nine issues each academic year. The newspaper was inducted into the National Scholastic Press Association Hall of Fame in 1991.
The school has an active FIRST Robotics Competition team, Team 1389, nicknamed "The Body Electric" from the Walt Whitman poem I Sing the Body Electric. The team was founded in 2004, and has competed every year since
 Bethesda magazine edition of September-October 2013
 Washington Post February 6, 1995
 "The Black & White". Retrieved January 21, 2015.
 "All-American Hall of Fame Inductees". studentpress.org. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
 "Team 1389 - The Body Electric". The Blue Alliance. Retrieved 2018-05-18.