The practice of inserting needles into flesh as a treatment for disease is supposed to be a 1000's of years old Chinese practice and there is some archeological evidence of the use of sharp needle-like implements in tombs and in some early manuscripts. However, there is no clear indication of how they were used. They could have been for tattooing, piercing, scarifying or other behaviors human cultures have done throughout history. It is unlikely that acupuncture as we know it today has been around longer than the ability to make fine steel needles. The Dutch physician Willem ten Rhijne (1647-1700) was the first European to write about East Asian medicine and he coined the word from latin - acus = needle & pungere = prick or pierce.
The first use of acupuncture with concepts of 'chi', or 'meridians' was by the Frenchman George Soulié de Morant who travelled to the far East in the early 20th century and spent 40 years promoting the practice in Europe. Though it was banned in China in the 1930's. Following the Communist takeover, Mao Zedong promoted Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, for political and practical reasons.
The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) found that of the 46 medical journals published by the Chinese Medical Association, not one is devoted to acupuncture or other so-called “traditional” Chinese medical practices, however the practice is widespread in the west. There are some studies and millions of personal anecdotes showing the effectiveness of acupuncture, especially in the treatment of pain. But, studies also show that sham acupuncture (using needles that don't actually puncture the skin, they just feel like it) or sticking them in random places, works as well or even better. There is no doubt that it is an interesting phenomenon but there is little good evidence that it has any of the claimed effects and most of the claimed positive results can be ascribed to placebo. Sticking needles through the protective barrier of your skin should never be done without very good reasons.