The seminal work of Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat published in 1952 demonstrates that it is possible to formulate Einstein's equations as an initial value problem. The purpose of this article is to describe the background to and impact of this achievement, as well as the result itself. In some respects, the idea of viewing the field equations of general relativity as a system of evolution equations goes back to Einstein himself; in an argument justifying that gravitational waves propagate at the speed of light, Einstein used a special choice of coordinates to derive a system of wave equations for the linear perturbations on a Minkowski background. Over the following decades, Hilbert, de Donder, Lanczos, Darmois and many others worked to put Einstein's ideas on a more solid footing. In fact, the issue of local uniqueness (giving a rigorous justification for the statement that the speed of propagation of the gravitational field is bounded by that of light) was already settled in the 1930s by the work of Stellmacher. However, the first person to demonstrate both local existence and uniqueness in a setting in which the notion of finite speed of propagation makes sense was Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat. In this sense, her work lays the foundation for the formulation of Einstein's equations as an initial value problem. Following a description of the results of Choquet-Bruhat, we discuss the development of three research topics that have their origin in her work. The first one is local existence. One reason for addressing it is that it is at the heart of the original paper. Moreover, it is still an active and important research field, connected to the problem of characterizing the asymptotic behaviour of solutions that blow up in finite time. As a second topic, we turn to the questions of global uniqueness and strong cosmic censorship. These questions are of fundamental importance to anyone interested in justifying that the Cauchy problem makes sense globally. They are also closely related to the issue of singularities in general relativity. Finally, we discuss the topic of stability of solutions to Einstein's equations. This is not only an important and active area of research, it is also one that only became meaningful thanks to the work of Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat.
2015. Vol. 32, no 12, 124003