The earliest mention of a confirmed ALC(Asian Leopard Cat) and domestic cross was in 1934 in a Belgian scientific journal, and in 1941 a Japanese cat publication printed an article about one that was kept as a pet. Jean Mill, the person who was later a great influence of the development of the modern Bengal breed, submitted a term paper for her genetics class at UC Davis on the subject of cross breeding cats in 1946.
The 1960s was a period when many well known breeders, including Jean Mill, produced ALC/domestic crosses, but records indicate that none of them took it past the F2 stage. Several zoos in Europe also produced a number of F1 ALC crosses. During this period there was an epidemic of feline leukemia virus and it became known that many wild cats seemed to have a natural immunity to the disease. As a result of this, Loyola University began a research program in the 1970s to investigate if this natural immunity could be bred in or replicated.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s there was a great deal of activity with hybrids, but there was no significant effort to create an actual breed from them. A number of Cat clubs formed that oriented on hybrids and a few oriented specifically on something William Engler, a member of the Long Island Ocelot Club and a breeder, called a Bengal.
Club newsletters were published, detailing the production of Bengals and Safaris (a domestic cat/Geoffroy's Cat cross), and members of these clubs bred some second and third generation Bengals. These were registered with the American Cat Fanciers Association (A.C.F.A.) in 1977 as experimental and were shown at several A.C.F.A. cat shows throughout the 1970s.
Around this time, Jean Mill began to renew her breeding efforts.
"...I deliberately crossed leopard cats with domestic cats for several important reasons. At that time, wild cats were being exploited for the fur market. Nursing female leopard cats defending their nests were shot for their pelts, and the cubs were shipped off to pet stores worldwide. Unsuspecting cat lovers bought them, unaware of the danger, their unpleasant elimination habits, and the unsuitability of keeping wild cats as pets. Most of the wild kittens from this era ended up in zoos or escaped onto city streets. I hoped that by putting a leopard coat on a domestic cat, the pet trade could be safely satisfied. If fashionable women could be dissuaded from wearing furs that look like friends' pets, the diminished demand would result in less poaching of wild species."
She contacted Dr. Willard Centerwall in Riverside who had produced a number of F1s using domestic tabbies at Loma Linda University for his Centerwall project into Feline Leukemia. Once the F1s had donated blood samples for his research, he needed homes for them. He gave Jean 4 hybrids. She later received another 5 hybrids from another source, but from the same Centerwall project.
***Mill did not use local domestics to create her first Bengals. She felt the ALC was a genetically superior animal and wished to avoid weakening this element. Around 1982, Mill and her husband made a trip to India where a zoo curator showed them a feral Indian Mau. This is how the famous rosetted domestic called "Millwood Tory of Delhi" came to be found in virtually all Bengal pedigrees.***
Greg and Elizabeth Kent were also early breeders, who developed their own line of Bengals using ALCs and Egyptian Maus. This was a very successful line and many modern Bengals will find it in their pedigree.
Jean Mill and the Kents worked hard to popularize the breed, and when the public saw the result of their work, word spread quickly.
As the number of breeders and owners grew, it led to the formation of T.I.C.A.'s Bengal Breed Section. T.I.C.A. adopted the first written breed standard in 1986 and the first Bengal Bulletin was published in Nov/Dec 1988.
Shortly after The International Bengal Cat Society (T.I.B.C.S.), the Bengal Breeders Alliance (B.B.A.) and the Authentic Bengal Cat League (A.B.C.L.) were formed. These organizations exist to promote good breeding practices, discourage unscrupulous breeders, and attempt to educate people about the Bengal breed.