In late 1997, Gerald Combs needed a tool for tracking down networking problems and wanted to learn more about networking, so he started writing Ethereal (the former name of the Wireshark project) as a way to solve both problems.
Ethereal was initially released, after several pauses in development, in July 1998 as version 0.2.0. Within days, patches, bug reports, and words of encouragement started arriving, so Ethereal was on its way to success.
Not long after that, Gilbert Ramirez saw its potential and contributed a low-level dissector to it.
In October, 1998, Guy Harris of Network Appliance was looking for something better than tcpview, so he started applying patches and contributing dissectors to Ethereal.
In late 1998, Richard Sharpe, who was giving TCP/IP courses, saw its potential on such courses, and started looking at it to see if it supported the protocols he needed. While it didn't at that point, new protocols could be easily added. So he started contributing dissectors and contributing patches.
The list of people who have contributed to the project has become very long since then, and almost all of them started with a protocol that they needed that Wireshark or Ethereal did not already handle. So they copied an existing dissector and contributed the code back to the team.
In 2006 the project moved house and re-emerged under a new name: Wireshark.
In 2008, after ten years of development, Wireshark finally arrived at version 1.0. This release was the first deemed complete, with the minimum features implemented. Its release coincided with the first Wireshark Developer and User Conference, called SharkFest.