This paper contributes to the understanding of metal demand development over time by illustrating the impacts of different aspects of technological change using historical data. We provide a direct, quantitative comparison of relative change in global primary production for 30 metals over 21 years (1993–2013), capturing the range and variation of demand development for different metals within this period. The aspects of technological change contributing to this variation are investigated in more depth for nine metals. Demand for 15 of the 30 metals increased significantly more than GDP between 1993 and 2013. For five metals, demand in 2013 was about or more than 400% of their demand in 1993. All of these metals had a total primary production of <100 kt in 2013. Concerning the metals under detailed investigation, comparatively high growth (demand2013> 500% demand1993) could be attributed to emerging technologies in the case of indium and cobalt. Comparatively low growth (demand2013 < 200% demand1993) was due to substitution of a technology in case of silver and caused by improvements regarding material efficiency and recycling in case of tin, palladium and platinum.