The SIG-Sauer P226 was developed from the original P220 model specifically to compete in the US Army pistol trials of the early 1980s. The US Army was in the market for a new standardized 9mm sidearm to replace their aging - though highly successful - Colt M1911A1. The Colt M1911A1 was chambered to fire the .45 ACP round and had served through two world wars and other "lesser" conflicts in-between to become a fixture in American gun lore. The John Browning design found further homes through both legal and illegal representations the world over. Regardless, the weapon held an origin dating back to before the beginning of the Great War (1914-1918) and a change was due. As such, the American military looked at all available, cost-effective options for its new-look Army. The program was known as the "XM9 Service Pistol Trials" and the competition was held in 1984.
Utilizing much of what made the P220 and the P225 series a success before it, the P226 was developed as a slight derivative within the SIG-Sauer family line. Major changes to the P226 in accordance to the American requirements included an ambidextrous magazine catch and a larger-capacity, 15-round, staggered column magazine for the 9mm Parabellum ammunition. The P226 retained the former model's de-cocking lever and automatic firing pin safety features. At her core, she was still a double-action, short-recoil system semi-automatic pistol with a locked breech operation. Externally, she showcased the same clean, sharp lines expected out of SIG-Sauer products and proved a durable, reliable and well-made weapon. Overall length was a manageable 7.72 inches with the barrel - of 6-groove, right-hand twist boring - making up 4.41 inches of the length. Muzzle velocity was rated at approximately 1,150 feet per second. The end product was exceptional in its own right and proved excellent in all of the required testing, something other entrants could not boast.
However, fate would find another path for the P226 in the end. While she squared off directly against the equally-impressive Italian Beretta M92F model, she lost out based on cost considerations and - reportedly - endurance when compared to the Italian submission. The Beretta M92F was granted the US Army contract and the M92F would now be produced for the Americans under the designation of "M9". Despite the rejection, the P226 still made its way to other American elements (including the US Navy SEALs) as well as proving a favorite to various security firms. The US Navy SEALs ended up passing on the Beretta 92F after some failures with that particular system and favored the SIG-Sauer P226 instead. The US Coast Guard and Federal Air Marshalls as well as the FBI also became prime American operators of the P226 series. Additionally, the P226 was accepted globally by similar groups including the British SAS ("Special Air Service").
Operators (security, police or military) have grown to include Canada, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The P226 went on to see itself chambered for the .40 S&W and .357 SIG rounds in addition to its standard 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge. The P226 led to the development of the P228 ("M11" in US inventory) and P229 compact handgun designs utilizing the P226's staggered magazine column approach. Other P226 forms include the P226 "Rail" (or "P226R") utilizing the Picatinny rail device for accessories, the P226 "Tactical" with a 5-inch threaded barrel for suppressor use, the P226 "Navy" specialized for the US Navy SEALs, the P226 "Blackwater" specialized for contracting firm of Blackwater USA, the P226 "Equinox" chambered for the .40 S&W, the P226 ST which is an all-stainless version, the P226R HSP ("Homeland Security Pistol") for the US Department of Homeland Security, the P226 X-Five for competition in 9mm and .40 S&W chambering, the P226 X-Six precision pistol, the revised P226 "Elite", the P226 "Combat" military variant and the P226 "Classic 22" chambered for the .22LR cartridge.
As with other SIG-Sauer branded weapons, Swiss restrictions of handguns ran heavy, forcing Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) of Neuhausen-am-Rheinfalls, Switzerland to team up with German-based J.P. Sauer & Sohn of Eckernforde, Germany to create the SIG-Sauer label. This allowed SIGs products to reach a more vast, and potentially lucrative, world gun market - particularly in the United States. SACO handled the importing of the P226 for the XM9 gun trials in America. Later, Interarms took on the responsibilities of importing the gun into the U.S. civilian market.
Today (2015), the pistol is manufactured both at the Eckernforde, Germany location (through J.P. Sauer und Sohn GmbH) and at the SIG Sauer, Incorporated facility (formerly SIGARMS, Incorporated) in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA.
The NORINCO MA-6 of China is an illegal, unlicensed copy of the Swiss P226 series. The weapon is also copied by the nations of Iran (as the PC-9 "ZOAF") and Myanmar.
In 2015 it was announced that the U.S. Navy SEALs would begin moving away from the P226 and replace them with Glock 19 models.