A prevalent hypothesis for the cell-to-cell coordination of the phenomena of early development is that a defined mixture of different mRNA species at specific abundances in each cell determines fate and behavior. With this dataset we explore this hypothesis by quantifying the abundance of every mRNA species in every individual cell of the early C. elegans embryo, for which the exact life history and fate is precisely documented. Overall design: Embryos of the 1-, 2-, 4-, 8- and 16-cell stage were dissected into complete sets of single cells, and each cell from each set was sequenced individually using SMARTer technology. 5-9 replicates were generated for each stage. Most cell identities were unknown upon sequencing, but were deduced from by their transcriptomes post hoc.