This two-part study is concerned with the understanding and modeling of the compressive response of open-cell metallic foams. Part I presents experimental results from Al-6101-T6 foams of three different cell sizes with relative densities of about 8%. X-ray tomography is first used to characterize the geometry of the microstructure. The cells are irregular polyhedra of nearly uniform size that are somewhat elongated in one direction. The ligaments are nearly straight with convex, three-sided cross-sections and variable area distribution along their length. Foam specimens were compressed at slow displacement rates along the rise and transverse directions and the evolution of crushing in the specimens was monitored using X-ray tomography. In both directions, the response is initially nearly linear, terminating into a limit load that is followed by an extensive load plateau. At an average strain of about 55% the load increases monotonically again due to densification. The limit load is caused by plastification due to combined compression and bending of the ligaments. Beyond this point, cells start to buckle and collapse locally, forming bands that cover the full cross-section of the specimen. Contact of the collapsing cells arrests local deformation triggering collapse in neighboring cells. In this manner, crushing gradually spreads throughout the specimen and when this is achieved the load required for further deformation starts to rise. The initial elastic modulus, the stresses at the limit load and the plateau and the extent of the plateau have been measured as a function of relative density for both directions. The stress-displacement response in the transverse direction is generally somewhat lower than in the rise direction but the prevalent events were found to be similar in the two directions.