The WKO was founded in 1946, and its first artistic directors were Franz Litschauer, Heinrich Hollreiser, Paul Angerer, and Carlo Zecchi. When he took over the position from 1976 to 1991, Philippe Entremont started a tradition of conductors playing a dual rôle, appearing as both conductor and soloist. Entremont has continued as the Orchestra's lifetime honorary conductor, leading it on tour and in its matinée subscription series at the Konzerthaus. In addition, the WKO has continued to invite dual-role artists, including Yehudi Menuhin, Heinz Holliger, Heinrich Schiff, and Ola Rudner.
Heinrich Schiff was chief conductor of the WKO from 2005 to 2008, when he stepped down from the post for health reasons. Stefan Vladar was named the new chief conductor of the WKO in May 2008. Since 2003, the WKO's associate conductor is Joji Hattori.
Ernst Märzendorfer led the Vienna Chamber Orchestra in the first complete recording of the symphonies of Joseph Haydn. This was given a very limited release and is little known. Hence, it is widely but erroneously believed that Antal Doráti's edition of the Haydn symphonies with the Philharmonia Hungarica was the first complete recording.