Ambler was originally known as the Village of Wissahickon, named for the North Pennsylvania Railroad depot established there in the mid-1850s. The town was renamed to Ambler in 1869 in honor of Mary Johnson Ambler, a local Quaker woman who heroically assisted during The Great Train Wreck of 1856, a local train accident in which 59 people were killed instantly and dozens more died from their injuries.
In 1881, the Keasbey and Mattison Company, whose business included the manufacture of asbestos, moved to Ambler from Philadelphia. The company invested heavily in the town. However, the Great Depression took its toll on the company, and it was sold to an English concern, Turner & Newhall, in 1934. Newhall operated the factory until it closed in 1962. Federal-Mogul, an American automotive supplier, purchased the assets of Turner & Newhall, and is itself in Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to asbestos liability. Contamination remains an issue in Ambler. One area was declared a Superfund site and remediated by the United States EPA. Another remains unremediated. The derelict factory and smokestack remain as symbols of asbestos' legacy. Local government has made redevelopment of the sites a priority. One proposal, for a 17-story condominium tower, was withdrawn after community opposition to the project.