The French arms factory Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Tulle (MAT) developed the MAT-49 for use by the the French Army in 1949, using a machine-stamping process which allowed them to produce large numbers quickly. Production continued there until the mid 60s and was then switched to the Manufacture d'Armes de St-Etienne (MAS) plant, where it was produced until 1979, when the French army switched to the FAMAS assault rifle.

During the Indo-China and Algeria wars, the MAT-49 saw heavy use by French military and MP forces. During this time, the NVA produced a local copy that was chambered for a 7.62 mm round.

The MAT-49 fires a 9x19 mm Luger/Para round, using a 20 or 32 round magazine and is blowback-operated and box magazine-fed, with a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute on full auto. (Some MAT-49s manufactured for police forces had 2 triggers, allowing use of full-auto fire or single shots, but most were manufactured as full-auto only.) It features a retractable wire stock, which when extended gives the weapon a length of 66cm. Barrel length is 23cm, with some police issues manufactured with extended barrels and non-retractable wooden stocks. Minus a magazine, it weighs about 3.6 kilograms, which makes it somewhat heavy for an SMG. The MAT-49 uses a grip safety which is located on the backside of the pistol grip. The rear sights are flip-up and "L"-shaped, and marked for a range of 50 and 100 meters.

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