The town is the birthplace of Walther Nernst, a chemist who in 1920 received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the Nernst equation, which gives the standard electrode potential of an electric cell containing various concentrations of electrolytes.
At the beginning of the 14th century, a revitalization of the church and the city was begun, lead by the then-current Bishop of Chełmno, Herman von Prizna. A wall was also constructed around the city to further its protection, and a castle was constructed in the city's northwestern corner. However, the city, the wall, the surrounding villages, and the castle were all completely destroyed in the Thirteen Years' War between the Teutonic Knights and the Poles. Afterwards, all of these were reconstructed, and the castle at Wambrez served as the official residence of the Bishops of Chełmno until 1773.
After the end of the Thirteen Years' war, which ended with the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), the city became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The city was again totally destroyed, this time in 1655 by Swedes during the second Polish-Swedish war. A major portion of the city also burned down in a devastating fire in 1700. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the city became a possession of the Prussian Kingdom, and between 1807 and 1815, the city was part of the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1788, the city was renamed Briesen, which is still referred to in German. Another devastating fire destroyed much of the city in 1792, after which the city's castle was used to supply stones for the rebuilding of the destroyed areas of town.
The residents of Briesen, as it was called at the time, mostly made their living through agriculture and brewing. Industrialization arrived in Briesen in the middle of the 19th century. Industrial development flourished in the city due to its location and its access to railroads. By 1900, the city contained cement factories, as well as automotive and mechanical engineering centers. Along with this the traditional industries of the town were also modernized, with state-of-the-art breweries and creameries taking shape.
On January 20, 1920, Briesen was returned to the newly formed Polish state, and was renamed, Wąbrzeźno, its current name. It was also made seat of its county. However, the city was invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, and was a German possession between 1939 and 1945. During this time, nearly 4,000 residents of Wąbrzeźno and the surrounding communities were sent to concentration camps. The Red army reclaimed the city, but this was hardly an improvement, as the Soviets conducted mass deportations even more extensive than those carried out under the German occupation. The city lost its status as county seat in 1975, but regained in 1999.