Historically, Dada began in 1916 when Hugo Ball, a German poet and exile, founded a local cafe in Zurich, called the Cabaret Voltaire. The club was a haven for young Bohemian artists, and its members boasted an atmosphere that emphasized artistic freedom and creation. The club quickly became a free platform for self-promotion used mainly by artists, musicians, and writers. For the most part, the club was an institution of learning and a Mecca for artistic individuality. The club had become so well known in the first month of its opening that people throughout Europe came to see the club.

In fact, as the club's popularity soared, and its memberships as well, the need for changes became apparent. The members realized that the beginning of a common interest was starting to occur, and that a new art movement was beginning. Hugo Ball, who founded the Cabaret Voltaire, soon realized that he needed to find a name to call this new movement. Unlike other movements in Modern Art, where names were often generated from critics, the Dadaists themselves originated their name.

Allegedly, Ball discovered the word Dada while thumbing through a German dictionary. Although the word Dada does not signify any logical meaning that describes the movement, Ball stated that the word expressed the primitive and unruly theme associated with the club, and that Dadaism was the perfect name for their group.

The Dadaists had one main frustration to compel them against modern art corruption. The young Dadaists felt that the creators of modern art had become snared by self-indulging greed, and had lost their sense of "true" direction. Many artists felt particularly bitter towards the Impressionists and Cubists, whom they felt had wrapped themselves in materialism. The Dadaists felt that art and literature had been exploited purely for money; and that artists had somehow lost the true identity of art. These social and personal concerns troubled the Dadaists, and these sentiments were the founding principles behind the Dada movement.

In one way or another, many artists have always had these same concerns. And indeed, around the same time that the Cabaret Voltaire was becoming popular, another independent branch of Dada in New York was taking place. In one sense the whole idea of Dada was similar. Dada seemed to be a way of thinking that has existed in every movement. Marcel Duchamp once stated, "Dada is the nonconformist spirit that has existed in every century, every period since man is man."