The surface uplift history of the Tibetan Plateau and Himalaya is among the most interesting topics in geosciences because of its effect on regional and global climate during Cenozoic time, its influence on monsoon intensity, and its reflection of the dynamics of continental plateaus. Models of plateau growth vary in time, from pre-India-Asia collision (e.g., ≈100 Ma ago) to gradual uplift after the India-Asia collision (e.g., ≈55 Ma ago) and to more recent abrupt uplift (<7 Ma ago), and vary in space, from northward stepwise growth of topography to simultaneous surface uplift across the plateau. Here, we improve that understanding by presenting geologic and geophysical data from north-central Tibet, including magnetostratigraphy, sedimentology, paleocurrent measurements, and 40Ar/39Ar and fission-track studies, to show that the central plateau was elevated by 40 Ma ago. Regions south and north of the central plateau gained elevation significantly later. During Eocene time, the northern boundary of the protoplateau was in the region of the Tanggula Shan. Elevation gain started in pre-Eocene time in the Lhasa and Qiangtang terranes and expanded throughout the Neogene toward its present southern and northern margins in the Himalaya and Qilian Shan.