Although the name sounds French, the Bichon actually has Spanish heritage....
They accompanied Spanish sailors on long voyages in the 1500s, eventually making their way to France. Once in France, they became a favorite of rulers like Henry VII and Napoleon III.
During the 19th century, the Bichon Frise transitioned from the pet of royalty into a commoners dog. They performed tricks as part of the traveling circus, accompanied organ grinders in the street, and served as guide dogs for the blind. Interest waned in the early part of 20th century and, had it not been for a revival after World War I, the breed may have gone extinct. The Bichon became part of the French Kennel Club in 1933.
Despite such a long history in Europe, they did not make their way to the United States until the 1950s. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1972 and has quickly grown in popularity in the US. They are currently 45th in popularity of 175 breeds ranked by the AKC and are gaining ground each year as more people seek out hypoallergenic dogs.