The cartridge was developed by Austrian firearm designer Georg Luger in 1901. The cartridge was derived from an earlier round designed by Luger (7.65×21mm Parabellum), which itself was derived from a cartridge used in the Borchardt C-93 pistol (7.65×25mm Borchardt). Shortening the length of the cartridge case used in the Borchardt pistol allowed Luger to improve the design of the toggle lock and to incorporate a smaller, angled grip.
Luger’s work on the Borchardt design evolved into the Luger pistol, which was first patented in 1898 and chambered in 7.65×21mm Parabellum. Demand from Germany for a larger caliber in their military sidearm led Luger to develop the 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge for the eventual P08 pistol. This was achieved by removing the bottleneck shape of the 7.65×21mm Parabellum case, resulting in a tapered rimless cartridge encasing a bullet
that was 9 millimeters in diameter.
In 1902, Luger presented the new round to the British Small Arms Committee, as well as three prototype versions to the U.S. Army for testing at Springfield Arsenal in mid-1903. The Imperial German Navy adopted the cartridge in 1904, and in 1908, the German Army adopted it as well. The ogive of the bullet was slightly redesigned in the 1910s to improve feeding.
To conserve lead during World War II in Germany, the lead core was replaced by an iron core encased with lead. This bullet, identified by a black bullet jacket, was designated as the 08 mE (mit Eisenkern—”with an iron core”). By 1944, the black jacket of the 08 mE bullet was dropped and these bullets were produced with normal copper-colored jackets. Another wartime variation was designated the 08 sE bullet and identified by its dark gray jacket, and was created by compressing iron powder at high temperature into a solid material (Sintereisen—”sintered iron”).
From the early 1980s to the late 1990s, a sharp increase occurred in the popularity of semi-automatic pistols in the U.S., a trend foreshadowed by the adoption of the Smith & Wesson Model 39 by the Illinois State Police in 1968. In addition, the Beretta M9 (a military version of the Beretta Model 92) was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1985. Previously, most American police departments issued .38 Special caliber revolvers with a six-shot capacity.
The .38 Special was preferred to other weapons, such as variants of the M1911, because it offered low recoil, was small and light enough to accommodate different shooters, and was relatively inexpensive. The 9×19mm cartridge is ballistically superior to the .38 Special revolver cartridge, is shorter overall, and being an autoloader cartridge, it is stored in flat magazines, as opposed to cylindrical speedloaders. This, coupled with the advent of the so-called “wonder nines”, led to many U.S. police departments exchanging their revolvers for some form of 9mm semiautomatic handguns by the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2013, a chart of popular calibers that was released by the website Luckygunner.com showed 9×19mm Parabellum as having 21.4% of the entire cartridge market followed by the .223 Remington at 10.2% (with 5.56 mm included this is 15.7%). The next most popular caliber was .45 ACP.