Experiments with instrumented displacement piles have shown that the ultimate shaft friction that can develop in a given sand horizon decreases as the pile tip penetrates to deeper levels. This phenomenon, which is now commonly referred to as friction fatigue, is investigated here using centrifuge model piles equipped with lateral stress sensors, and by drawing on other experimental data from the laboratory and the field. It is shown that the primary mechanism controlling friction fatigue is the cyclic history imparted during pile installation to soil elements at the pile-sand interface. For a given installation method the stationary lateral stress acting at any given level on a displacement pile can be described as a relatively unique function of the cone penetration test end resistance and the number of cycles imposed during installation. The strong influence of cycling, which is also seen in cyclic constant normal stiffness interface shear tests, is attributed to contraction of a narrow shear zone at the shaft-soil interface that is surrounded by soil with a relatively high lateral stiffness.