The Brussels griffon had its origin in Belgium, where it was allegedly preceded by a dog called a smousje--a small-sized, wire-haired terrier type used to hunt vermin in horse stables. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Belgian stable owners began crossbreeding the smousje dogs with other imported breeds like the pug, the affenpinscher, and various toy spaniels, apparently in an attempt to develop a more effective vermin-hunting breed.
Eventually, the Brussels griffon--or as it's known in Europe, the griffon bruxellois--became recognized as a breed all its own. By the latter 1800s, griffons were growing in popularity, particularly because of Belgium's Queen Marie Henriette, who owned and bred them, thus creating acclaim for griffons across Europe. By 1900, the breed was also well-known in England and the U.S., with Britain's Kennel Club officially recognizing the breed in 1898, and the AKC doing so two years later. By this time griffons also included two sub-types: the petit brabancon, which was a smooth-coated variety, and the Belgian griffon, which was wire-haired but had more variety in its coat coloring (the Brussels griffon was typically red).
During World Wars I and II, griffons--as was the case with many dog breeds--shrank greatly in number; dog breeding in general during that time was often difficult and costly, so the world's dog population decreased by a great deal. But a few griffons survived, and the breed's population has increased a bit since the mid-twentieth century. Griffon ownership surged somewhat in the late 1990s, when a Brussels griffon was featured alongside Jack Nicholson in the 1997 film As Good As It Gets.
Today, though several breed clubs exist around the world, Brussels griffons are still relatively few in number.