The comet was sighted in 1772 by Charles Messier and in 1805 by Jean-Louis Pons. However, it was Wilhelm von Biela who discovered it in its 1826 perihelion approach (on February 27) and calculated its orbit, discovering it to be periodic with a period of 6.6 years. It was only the third comet (at the time) found to be periodic, after the famous comets Halley and Encke.
In its 1846 appearance, the comet was observed to have broken up into two pieces. It was observed again in 1852 with the two parts being 1.5 million miles apart. They could not be found on their periodic returns in 1859, 1865, and 1872; But on Nov. 27th, 1872, a brilliant meteor shower (3,000 per hour) was observed radiating from the part of the sky where the comet had been expected to cross in September 1872. This was the date when Earth intersected the comet's trajectory. These meteors became known as the Andromedids or "Bielids" and it seems apparent that they indicated the death of the comet. The meteors were seen again on subsequent occasions for the rest of the 19th century, but have now faded away.
A highly speculative theory suggests that on October 8, 1871, fragments of Biela's Comet may have been responsible for starting the Peshtigo Fire , the Port Huron Fire of 1871, and the Great Chicago Fire. However, there is no direct evidence of this.
On November 27 1885, there was an iron meteorite fall in northern Mexico, at the same time as the 15,000 per hour outburst of the Andromedid meteor shower. The Mazapil meteorite has sometimes been attributed to the comet, but this idea has been out of favor since the 1950s. The processes of differentiation required to produce an iron body are not believed to occur in comets.
Comet P/2001 J1 (NEAT) may be part of former comet Biela since it has a similar orbit.