Bovine von Willebrand factor was digested with human plasmin in order to isolate and characterize a fragment that can bind to human platelets. A terminal plasmin digest of bovine von Willebrand factor is composed of five fragments, ranging in relative molecular weight (Mr) from 250,000 to 35,000. The major fragment has a Mr of 250,000 and consists of four disulfide-linked polypeptide chains with Mr from 69,000 to 35,000. The Mr 69,000 and 49,000 polypeptides possess carbohydrate moieties, as indicated by their reaction with periodate-Schiff reagent. Gel filtration studies suggest that, at physiological ionic strength, four of the Mr 250,000 fragments associate into a limited noncovalent oligomer. Monoclonal antibodies were prepared against native von Willebrand factor and used to characterize the distribution of epitopes on native vWF and the Mr 250,000 major fragment. Two of the monoclonal antibodies that recognize the major fragment (2 and H-9) inhibit platelet agglutination. The Mr 250,000 fragment binds to human platelets, and the binding is inhibited by monoclonal antibodies 2 and H-9. The Mr 250,000 fragment does not agglutinate platelets, consistent with a requirement for high molecular weight oligomers of von Willebrand factor for platelet agglutination. The Mr 250,000 fragment can compete with intact, bovine von Willebrand factor for binding to human platelets. However, its affinity is one-tenth that of intact von Willebrand factor.