Staff Writer (Updated: 12/14/2014):
Prior to World War 1, Polish territory was claimed by the powers of Prussia, Russia and Austria (the Kingdom of Poland was forged in 1025 and dismantled as the "Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" in 1795). It was not until the end of World War 1 in November of 1918 that modern-day Poland (as the "Second Polish Republic") was reborn. With its independence now formally recognized, authorities moved to establish a viable land army for the primary purpose of self-defense and, to this, the daunting task of outfitting its personnel was brought about.
For decades, the Polish Army relied on outside sources to stock its inventory. As such, it became a mixed assortment of surplus goods varying in origin (German, Austrian, British, American, Russian) and caliber. It was under this arrangement that the Polish Army fought its victorious campaign against Ukraine in the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-1919. The follow-up Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 netted a Polish tactical victory and little else. During the war years, the Polish Army had peaked at 737,000-strong and made due with whatever was on hand.
In the 1930s, a move to standardize Polish arms was reinforced by a 1935 trial to select the primary sidearm of the Polish soldier. Engineers Piotr Wilniewczyz and Jan Skrzypinksi submitted a Browning design which centered around the tried-and-proven qualities of the Fabrique-Nationale "High-Power" (HP), a semi-automatic pistol started by fabled American gunsmith John Browning himself prior to his death in 1926. The Polish engineers introduced a slide catch that controlled the hammer and allowed the operator to carry the loaded handgun in relative safety. The catch was used to slowly release the hammer with a cartridge residing in the chamber, requiring a manual re-cocking action (managing the hammer with the thumb) to make the pistol "ready-to-fire" once more (a grip safety remained the primary safety facility) - this addition made the wz.35 one of the first pistols to utilize a "decocking" lever. During the action, the barrel was initially locked to the slide and then separated by a cam in the frame prior to the stripping of a fresh cartridge from the awaiting magazine. Polish authorities selected this in-house design as the standard Polish Army handgun in 1935 under the designation of "Pistolet wz.35" ("wz" standing for "model" and "35" for the year of adoption - 1935). It is notable that the move to semi-automatic pistols from revolver types was something of a world-wide event for many national armies.
With help from Fabrique-Nationale, lines were set up at the Fabryka Broni w Radomiu facility for local serial production, this helping the Poles begin to achieve arms independence at a crucial time in European history. Due to its manufacture location, the pistol came to be recognized as the "Pistolet Radom wz.35".However, the handgun was more appropriately recognized as the "Pistolet WiS wz.35" - "WiS" recognizing its two designers by initials. The "WiS" designation eventually evolved to become the "Vis" designation, Vis translating to "force" in Latin.