Archaeological and documentary evidence suggests that Gujranwala city is about 500 years old. The first known settlement at the site was known as Khanpur Saansi after Khan Saansi of jat tribe who established 11 villages in the vicinity of modern day Gujranwala. The town came to be known as Gujranwala for gujjar tribes who occupied the area in the middle of the sixteenth century. Other smaller town in the district viz. Sohdara, Eminabad, Wazirabad, and Ghakhar are older than Gujranwala itself.
The district became important in the late 18th and early 19th century when the rising power of Sikh tribes came to be centred in Gujranwala. The best known Sikh ruler of the Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born in 1780 in Gujranwala which served as the capital of the Sikh domain until Lahore fell to them in 1799. Gujranwala was annexed by the British in 1849 and became one of the original districts in the British-administered Punjab.