In 1894 baron Roland Eötvös was asked to serve as minister of education in the Hungarian government, to help the acceptance of civil rights and religious freedom in the Hungarian Parliament. The Hungarian Mathematical and Physical Society decided, that – to commemorate this period – launches yearly competitions to secondary school graduates. This has got the name Eötvös Competition. It was organized first in the fall of 1884, and it runs in every year (with the exception of a few war years). The problems given at this competitions are intended to assess the creativity (and not the memorized knowledge) of the students. The problems have to be solved in a closed room, supervised by impartial observers, within an afternoon. The respect of this competition is created – among others – by the fact that the 10 bests in mathematics and the 10 bests in physics have free admission to the university. (It has to be noted that students are accepted at scientific, engineering and medical faculties only after passing very competitive entrance examinations. The Eötvös Competition offers a route for "wild" talents to the university.) The actual organization of the Eötvös Competition happens mostly at the Eötvös University under the patronage of the Eötvös Society. Local physics competitions are organized in several districts of Hungary.

Among the prize winners one finds the names of Theodore von Kármán in mathematics (1897), Leo Szilard in physics (1916), Edward Teller, in both, mathematics and physics (1925), in physics together with Laszlo Tisza, John Harsanyi in mathematics (1937), Ferenc Mezei in physics (1960), and so on. These names indicate the century-long tradition.

The problem-solving student journal, Középiskolai Matematikai és Fizikai Lapok was launched in the same year. This journal is published by the Eötvös Society in thousands of copies monthly.

The respect of the Eötvös Competition is expressed by the fact that John von Neumann tried to introduce a similar competition in Germany in the 1920s, furthermore Gabriel Szegõ (the Hungarian mathematics professor at Stanford University) organized competitions in California, following the pattern of the Eötvös Competitions, after World War 2. At the centenary celebration Kai-hua Zhao stressed that the Eötvös Competition might be considered as the forerunner of the International Physics Student Olympiads. These Olympiads were created at joint Czech–Hungarian–Polish initiative in 1964, now students from about 50 countries participate on them. In 1991 the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics gave its educational medal to the Physics Olympiad and to its three initiators. Inspired by the Student Olympiads, nowadays national student competitions are organized in many countries.