The district was created in 1868 when districts were created in Saxe-Meiningen. In 1952 part of the district was incorporated into the newly created district Neuhaus am Rennweg. This district was dissolved again in 1994 and the district Sonneberg did regain its old size.
The coat of arms shows symbols of the historic states which make up the territory of the district. In the topleft is the lion as symbol of the county of Meißen. In the top right is the symbol of the Lords of Sonneberg, which includes a sheep scissor. In the bottom left the symbol of the Counts of Schaumberg-Rauenstein; in the bottom right is the coat of arms of Saxony.