In the vertebrate embryo, the kidney is derived from the intermediate mesoderm. The LIM-class homeobox transcription factor lhx1 is expressed early in the intermediate mesoderm and is one of the first genes to be expressed in the nephric mesenchyme. In this study, we investigated the role of Lhx1 in specification of the kidney field by either overexpressing or depleting lhx1 in Xenopus embryos or depleting lhx1 in an explant culture system. By overexpressing a constitutively-active form of Lhx1, we established its capacity to expand the kidney field during the specification stage of kidney organogenesis. In addition, the ability of Lhx1 to expand the kidney field diminishes as kidney organogenesis transitions to the morphogenesis stage. In a complimentary set of experiments, we determined that embryos depleted of lhx1, show an almost complete loss of the kidney field. Using an explant culture system to induce kidney tissue, we confirmed that expression of genes from both proximal and distal kidney structures is affected by the absence of lhx1. Taken together our results demonstrate an essential role for Lhx1 in driving specification of the entire kidney field from the intermediate mesoderm.