His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, donated the trophy to the NHL in 1924. From 1927-28 through 1937-38, it was presented to the team finishing first in the American Division. (The team finishing first in the Canadian Division received the O'Brien Trophy during these years.)
From 1938-39, when the NHL reverted to one division, to 1966-67, the Prince of Wales Trophy was presented to the team that won the regular-season championship. After expansion in 1967-68, it again became a divisional trophy and was awarded to the regular-season champion of the East Division through the end of the 1973-74 season. Beginning in 1974-75, it was awarded to the regular-season winner of the conference bearing the name of the trophy.
From 1981-82 through 1992-93, the trophy was presented to the playoff champion in the Wales Conference. Since 1993-94, it has been presented to the playoff champion in the Eastern Conference.