The gene 4 protein of bacteriophage T7 is both a primase and a helicase. In this paper, we present a detailed description of a third activity, single-stranded DNA-dependent nucleoside 5'-triphosphate hydrolysis, and show that this activity is coupled to the unidirectional translocation of the gene 4 protein on single-stranded DNA (Tabor, S., and Richardson, C.C. (1981) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 78, 205-209). The competitive inhibitor of NTP hydrolysis, beta, gamma-methylene dTTP, is also a potent inhibitor of gene 4 protein-dependent, RNA-primed DNA synthesis; inhibition is not due to a direct inhibition of T7 DNA polymerase or RNA primer synthesis. We conclude that the energy derived from the hydrolysis of NTPs by the gene 4 protein is required for translocation of the protein to primase recognition sites. Measurement of the rates of hydrolysis of NTPs using a variety of DNAs of known structure and length support the unidirectional translocation of the gene 4 protein on single-stranded DNA. Duplex DNA, RNA, and single-stranded DNA coated with single-stranded DNA-binding protein do not serve as effectors for the nucleoside triphosphatase of the gene 4 protein. Kinetic data suggest that the gene 4 protein does not remain bound to newly synthesized oligoribonucleotide primers but continues to search for other primase recognition sites. Although all the predominant naturally occurring NTPs except rCTP are hydrolyzed by the gene 4 protein, the enzyme shows specificity for dTTP with a Km of 0.4 mM. In the accompanying paper (Matson, S.W., Tabor, S., and Richardson, C.C. (1983) J. Biol. Chem. 258, 14017-14024), we show that the hydrolysis of NTPs is also required for the protein to function as a helicase in duplex regions of DNA.