The city of Wolfsburg was founded in 1938 as Stadt des KdF-Wagen to house autoworkers building the car which would later become famous as the Volkswagen Beetle. The first football club affiliated with the autoworks was known as BSG Volkswagenwerk Stadt des KdF-Wagen, a works team. This team played in the first division Gauliga Osthannover in the 1943–44 and 1944–45 seasons.
On 12 September 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, a new club was formed and was known briefly as VSK Wolfsburg. This side began play in the green and white still worn by VfL today: local youth trainer Bernd Elberskirch had ten green jerseys at his disposal and white bed sheets donated by the public were sewn together by local women to make shorts.
On 15 December 1945, the club went through a crisis that almost ended its existence when all but one of its players left to join 1. FC Wolfsburg. The only player remaining, Josef Meyer, worked with Willi Hilbert to rebuild the side by signing new players. The new group adopted the moniker VfL Wolfsburg, VfL standing for Verein für Leibesübungen. This can be translated as "club for gymnastics" or "club for exercises." Within a year they captured the local Gifhorn title. In late November 1946, the club played a friendly against longtime Gelsenkirchen powerhouse Schalke 04 at the stadium owned by Volkswagen, emerging as the successor to BSG as the company sponsored side.
The club made slow but steady progress in the following seasons. They captured a number of amateur level championships, but were unable to advance out of the promotion playoffs until finally breaking through to the top tier Oberliga Nord in 1954 with a 2–1 victory over Heider SV. However, Wolfsburg struggled in the top flight, narrowly missing relegation each season until finally being sent down in 1959. When Germany's first professional football league – the Bundesliga – was formed in 1963, VfL was playing in the Regionalliga Nord (II) having just moved up from the Verbandesliga Niedersachsen (III).
Second division and advance to the Bundesliga
Historical logo of VfL Wolfsburg in use until 2002.
Wolfsburg remained a second division fixture over the next dozen years with their best performance being a second place finish in 1970. That finish earned the club entry to the promotion round playoffs for the Bundesliga where they performed poorly and were unable to advance. From the mid-1970s through to the early 1990s Die Wölfe played as a third division side in the Amateur Oberliga Nord. Consecutive first place finishes in 1991 and 1992, followed by success in the promotion playoffs saw the club advance to the 2. Bundesliga for the 1992–93 season.
VfL continued to enjoy some success through the 1990s. The team advanced to the final of the German Cup in 1995 where they were beaten 0–3 by Borussia Mönchengladbach, but then went on to the top flight on the strength of a second place league finish in 1997.
Early predictions were that the club would immediately be sent back down, but instead, the Wolves developed into a mid-table Bundesliga side. In the 1998–99 season, Wolfsburg under Wolfgang Wolf, was holding the fifth place in the 33rd fixture, and they had hopes to reach the 4th place, and the UEFA Champions League participation. Losing 6–1 away to Duisburg in the final fixture, the Wolves finished in sixth place with 55 points and qualified to the UEFA Cup. They qualified for the Intertoto Cup in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005, enjoying their best run in 2003 by reaching the final where they lost to Italian side Perugia. This was followed by a couple of seasons of little success for the club when only narrowly avoiding relegation with two 15th place finishes in the 2005–06 and 2006–07 season.
For the 2007–08 season, the club hired former Bayern Munich manager Felix Magath, with whom they managed to finish an astonishing fifth place at the end of the season, the highest finish for the club at the time. This also enabled the Wolves to qualify for the UEFA Cup for only the second time in their history.
In the 2008–09 season, under Magath, Wolfsburg claimed their biggest success by winning their first Bundesliga title after defeating Werder Bremen 5–1 on 23 May 2009. During this campaign, Wolfsburg equalled the longest winning streak in one Bundesliga season with 10 successive victories after the winter break. They also became the only team in the Bundesliga to have had two strikers scoring more than 20 goals each in one season, with Brazilian Grafite and Bosnian Edin Džeko achieving this feat in their title-winning season, scoring 28 and 26, respectively. As a result of their title win, Wolfsburg qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
In the 2009–10 season, Wolfsburg dismissed their newly appointed trainer Armin Veh after the winter break, due to lack of success, with the club sitting tenth in the league. In the Champions League they came third in their group, behind Manchester United and CSKA Moscow, losing the chance for a place in the competition's successive round. As a result, they qualified for the Round of 32 phase of the UEFA Europa League. They defeated Spanish side Villarreal CF 6–3 on aggregate, and Russian champions Rubin Kazan 3–2. In the quarter-finals, however, they were beaten 3–1 by eventual finalists Fulham.
On 11 May 2010, the permanent head coach's position was filled by former England manager Steve McClaren. After having guided FC Twente to their first ever Dutch title, he was rewarded by becoming the first ever English coach to be given the chance to manage a Bundesliga side. On 7 February 2011, it was announced that McClaren had been sacked and that Pierre Littbarski would be taking over. Wolfsburg, however, lost for the fourth time in five matches under him and they finally slipped into the relegation places.
On 18 March 2011, Wolfsburg confirmed that Felix Magath would return as head coach and sporting director, almost two years since he led them to the Bundesliga title and just two days after being fired from his position at Schalke 04. He signed a two-year contract with the club. Magath steered the club to safety, but though the club invested heavily, Magath could only achieve a mid-table finish in the following 2011–12 season. After only five points in eight matches (and no goals and points in the last four games) in the 2012–13 season, Magath left the club by mutual consent on 25 October 2012.
Wolfsburg plays at the Volkswagen Arena, a multi-purpose stadium which seats a total capacity of 30,000 spectators. Before construction was finished in 2002, Wolfsburg played their home games at the 20,500 capacity VfL-Stadium, where the amateur squad still plays. Currently the stadium is used mostly for the home games of VfL Wolfsburg, and is the site where they won their first Bundesliga title in the 2008–09 season.