The design was generally based on American firearms inventor John Browning's Colt M1911A1, operating on the short-recoil principle, with the barrel being cammed down and away from the locking lugs in the slide. Unlike M1911, the barrel was not cammed by a link, but by a ledge of sorts, which contacts a portion of the barrel and forces it down as it is moved rearward with the slide by the recoil force, similarly as in Browning's FN Hi-Power pistol. It differs from M1911A1 also in other details. Its characteristic feature was a triangular grip shape, wider at the bottom, offering good ergonomics and firm grip. On the right side grip cover, the pistol had letters VIS in a triangle, on the left side—FB (for Fabryka Broni—"Arms Factory").
The handgun was prepared in late 1930, and at the beginning of 1931 the first pistols were ready for testing. Initially it was named WiS (an acronym of the Polish designers' names), later the name was changed to Vis, meaning "force" in Latin, with the wz. abbreviation for wzór ("model").
The tests proved that the handgun was very accurate and stable (due to its size and mass, most stresses are absorbed and not passed on the shooter), while at the same time remaining reliable after firing more than 6,000 rounds. The Vis was generally regarded as one of the best military pistols of that period. Production started in the state armory Fabryka Broni in Radom in late 1935, and the following year it was introduced as the standard weapon of Polish infantry and cavalry officers. Successively, other units were to be equipped, and by 1942 all other handguns were scheduled to be withdrawn from service. By mid-1938, it was introduced to the armored and air forces. Before the Invasion of Poland, approximately 49,400 (out of 90,000 ordered) were delivered to the army. There was also a small information series of .45 ACP version, with 7 round magazine, but they were not produced in greater series. A .22 LR variant also existed, but no details are known, and its series could not be big.
After the Polish defeat in 1939, the Germans took over the Radom Armory and continued production of the Vis under the new name of 9 mm Pistole 645(p), which was for some reason often rendered as P 35(p) (the suffix "p" means "polnisch") (the German pistols of the first series had inscriptions VIS Mod.35 and P.35(p) on the left side). Up to 1945, between 312,000 and 380,000 were produced and used by the German paratroopers and police.
Fearing that Polish technicians working in the armory might supply the Home Army with the weapons, the Germans moved production of barrels and final assemble to the Steyr works in Austria. However, underground production of Vis barrels was started in Warsaw, and several hundred Vis pistols were assembled of parts smuggled from the factory, delivered to the Home Army and used extensively during the Warsaw Uprising, among others. Vis pistols made after 1939 were issued in four different series, each with small modifications to simplify production. In late 1944, all production was moved to the Steyr works in Austria, where the last simplified model of the fourth series was produced (with no inscriptions at all, apart from bnz signature). The Vis remained in production until April 1945. Generally, the wartime Vis were of much lower quality than the original, and further degrading towards the end of the war.
After the war, production of the pistol was not continued, as the Army of the People's Republic of Poland used the Soviet TT-33 pistol, produced in the former Fabryka Broni in Radom due to Warsaw Pact regulations. It was considered much inferior to the Vis, especially in ergonomics and reliability, but political considerations and Soviet influence were decisive.
In August 1992, the Łucznik Arms Factory in Radom reintroduced the Vis pistol and produced a small series of some 27 pistols on the basis of the original plans and specifications, mainly for the collectors' market.