Root traits are essential for optimising nutrient and water absorption and anchorage. However, changes in root traits and the contribution of root-to-shoot growth and development of soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) across a century of breeding are poorly documented. In this study, we adopted a grafting technique, using 55 cultivars released in the three main soybean-production regions in China as rootstocks in a pot experiment and 24 cultivars from the Yellow-Huai-Hai Valley (YHH) region as rootstocks in a field experiment, with cv. Zigongdongdou as the common scion. Changes in soybean roots, including dry weight (DW) of roots, lateral root number (LRN) and taproot length (TRL), and their contribution to shoot development and biomass formation, including shoot DW, plant height and node number, were evaluated under optimal conditions in 2011. Aboveground traits declined with year of release in the YHH region and did not vary over time in the northern Heilongjiang province and mid-south Heilongjiang region except for shoot DW. The root traits root DW, LRN and TRL were similar over years of release in the pot and field experiments. The results suggest that the newer cultivars have lesser shoot growth and root capacity but the same amount of root growth as older cultivars. Root traits did not change during selection, suggesting that improvement in soybean root traits should be an aim in future breeding.