Foundation to World War II
The earliest roots of the association go back to the establishment of the gymnastics club Turnverein Flingern on 5 May 1895 in the village of Flingern, today one of the eastern quarters of Düsseldorf. Two other sides figure in the club's early history: Düsseldorfer Fußballklub Spielverein, founded in 1908, and FK Alemania 1911, which was founded in 1911 and became Fortuna 1911 the following year. In mid-1913, these two clubs merged to form Düsseldorfer Fußball-Club Fortuna 1911 which played its debut season in the Westdeutschen Spielverband in 1913–14. TV Flingern joined Fortuna to create Düsseldorfer Turn- und Sportverein Fortuna on 15 November 1919.
In the late 1920s, Fortuna won its first honours as a first tier side; it captured a district level Bezirksliga title in 1927, sent its first representative to the in 1928 (), and took a second Bezirksliga title in 1929. The team continued to perform well into the 1930s, winning its third and fourth district titles en route to a in 1931 and its greatest success, a in 1933 against Schalke 04, which was on the verge of becoming the era's dominant side in Germany. Fortuna was the first team to win the title without conceding a goal in the final rounds of the tournament. It beat Vorwärts-Rasensport Gleiwitz (9–0), Arminia Hannover (3–0), Eintracht Frankfurt (4–0) and finally Schalke 04 (3–0) en route to becoming the first national champion from the industrial Rhine-Ruhr area.
In the following season, the club began playing in Gauliga Niederrhein, 1 of 16 top-flight divisions formed in the re-organization of German football under the Third Reich. Düsseldorf dominated the division through the 1930s as five-time champions between 1936 and 1940, and made losing appearances in the national championship final in 1936 (1–2 to 1. FC Nürnberg) and the final of the Tschammerpokal, the predecessor of today's DFB-Pokal, in 1937 (1–2 against Schalke 04). The club was relegated in 1942 but made a prompt return to the top flight the following season. In 1944–45, it began play as the combined wartime side Kriegsspielgemeinschaft TSV Fortuna/SC 99 Düsseldorf with partner Düsseldorfer Sport Club 1899, but took part in only two matches as Nazi Germany fell before the advance of Allied armies.
The most notable players of that era were Paul Janes, Germany's most capped player from 1942 to 1970 (71 caps), German team captain (1939–1942) and member of the Breslau Eleven that beat 8–0 in Breslau in 1937 and went on to win 10 of 11 games played during that year; Stanislaus Kobierski, who earned 26 caps and scored Germany's first ever FIFA World Cup goal; ; and Jakob Bender.
Post War era
Historical chart of Fortuna league performance after WWII
After World War II, Allied occupation authorities ordered the dissolution of all sports organizations in Germany. Fortuna was re-formed in 1945 and then played most of their football in the Oberliga West (I) in the years between 1947 and the creation of the Bundesliga, Germany's professional football league, in 1963. It played as a lower-to-mid-table side but did earn three appearances in the DFB-Pokal final in – 1957, 1958 and 1962 – but was not able to take the prize, losing each of those matches to Bayern Munich, VfB Stuttgart and 1. FC Nürnberg. It was also during this era that Toni Turek, goalkeeper for Germany's "Miracle of Bern" side at the 1954 World Cup; Erich Juskowiak (30 caps and World Cup player in 1958); and later national team coach Jupp Derwall all represented Fortuna.
1960s and 1970s
Fortuna's performance was not good enough to earn them a place among the original 16 teams chosen for the newly founded Bundesliga in 1963, but the club did manage to play its way into the premier division three years later for a cameo appearance in 1966–67. Despite a sensational 2–1 away win at recently crowned European Cup Winners' Cup winners Borussia Dortmund in its Bundesliga debut, Fortuna was immediately relegated, though only to return in 1971 for a stay that lasted 16 seasons and included two third-place league finishes (in 1972–73 and 1973–74). On 9 December 1978, Fortuna recorded a 7–1 victory against Bayern Munich, to date the highest away defeat for Bayern in its entire Bundesliga history. In addition, Fortuna continued its prosperous play in the DFB-Pokal, making another three appearances. After losing in its fifth appearance in the final in 1978 against local rivals 1. FC Köln (0–2), the club finally broke through and came away as champions in 1979, prevailing 1–0 against Hertha BSC, then repeating as champions 1980 with 2–1 victory against 1. FC Köln. During this period, the club established a record for consecutive DFB-Pokal match victories, with 18-straight between 1978 and 1981.
Fortuna is among a group of four teams which have made frequent appearances in the DFB-Pokal final only to come away empty-handed. Like 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Fortuna has just two wins against fives losses. 1. FC Köln has four wins and six losses in the Cup final, while Schalke 04 has been frustrated most often, with four wins and seven losses. Four of the Düsseldorfer's losses were by a single goal and two of those were in extra time.
The club's best turn in European competition was in the 1979 European Cup Winners' Cup Final, where it finished as runners-up to Barcelona, losing 4–3 in extra time in an exciting finale at Basel. It was the first of four occasions that the Catalan club won the tournament.
Fortuna achieved its success mostly with hometown players like the famous Allofs brothers (Klaus Allofs and Thomas Allofs) or players like Gerd Zewe (440 games in the Bundesliga), Dieter Herzog, Reiner Geye, Wolfgang Seel and Rudi Bommer who joined the team as nearly unknown players and ended as internationals. Between 1960 and 1967, scored 119 goals in 174 games.
1980s to the new century
Esprit arena in Düsseldorf. View from the Warsteiner Tribüne. Match: Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. FC St. Pauli
Since its relegation in 1987, Fortuna has bounced back and forth between leagues, spending five more seasons in the Bundesliga in 1989–92 and 1995–97 and slipping as low as Oberliga Nordrhein (IV) in 2002–04. In 2001, the club escaped relegation to tier IV only because two other clubs were denied licenses to play in tier III for financial reasons. Fortuna had its own money problems at the time but have since managed to arrange its finances more or less back into order. Between 2001 and 2003, the club was sponsored by German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen.
In 2008–09, Fortuna competed in the newly established 3. Liga, finishing second and gaining automatic promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, where it finished fourth in its comeback season, 2009–10. In this season, Fortuna was the only side unbeaten in home-matches in the three top German (nationwide) leagues.
After a promising 2009–10 season, the 2010–11 season began poorly for Fortuna. After the first six games of the season, the club was in last place, having lost every match. During these first six matches, the club managed to score only two goals – one of which was an own-goal by the other side. Despite this discouraging start, Fortuna bounced back and finished the season in seventh place. 2011–12 began very differently: after the first half of the season, Fortuna was in first place in the table with a remarkable record of 12 wins, 5 draws and 0 losses. The "Herbstmeister" title gave the team and the fans hope that this could be the year Fortuna returned to the Bundesliga. The second half of the season was more challenging, as Fortuna was unable to maintain its pace: it suffered four losses and a number of draws, slipping to third place in the final standings. Nonetheless, this was sufficient for them to qualify for the two-game relegation playoff against the third-last place team in the Bundesliga – Hertha BSC. The first game of the relegation was played on 10 May 2012 in Berlin, with Fortuna winning 2–1. Fortuna drew the deciding game which was played on 15 May in Düsseldorf. Hertha fans, however, threw firecrackers at the field and the players, and one minute before the match ended, overexcited Fortuna fans stormed the field.
The promotion to the Bundesliga represented an extraordinary personal achievement for team captain Andreas Lambertz, as he became the first player in German football history to be promoted three times with the same club, from the then fourth-tier Oberliga to the Bundesliga. For striker Sascha Rösler, it marked the fourth time in his career that he was promoted from the Second Division into the Bundesliga.
Coming with the recent promotion, the club achieved a new record in German football history, becoming the only German club that has been relegated from the Bundesliga down to a fourth-tier league (time period of downfall: 1997–2002) and promoted back to the Bundesliga afterwards (time period of uprising: 2004–2012).
Fortuna started the 2012–13 Bundesliga season strongly: after five games, it was in fifth place in the table
 and concerns about relegation seemed to have been put to rest. However, Fortuna's 1–0 home win over SpVgg Greuther Fürth on 16 February would prove to be the club's final victory of the season. The season concluded with Fortuna playing in Hannover 96, a match Fortuna lost 0–3. This defeat, combined with an FC Augsburg win over Greuther Fürth and a bizarre and unlikely victory by 1899 Hoffenheim over second-place Borussia Dortmund, resulted in Fortuna dropping two places. Fortuna finished 17th and were again relegated back to the 2. Bundesliga.
Fortuna's relegation was the result not only of this unlikely series of occurrences on the final day of the season, but also a poor conclusion to the year. Of its final eight matches, it did not win a single one; just one win would have secured its position for the following season's Bundesliga. This poor performance contributed to the dismissal of head coach Norbert Meier.
Relegation to the 2. Bundesliga led to a period of generally disappointing performance. Fortuna spent the years between 2013 and 2017 in the middle of the table, often battling against relegation and rarely challenging for promotion back to the Bundesliga. During these years, the club went through a series of coaching changes, with Oliver Reck, Frank Kramer, and former player Mike Buskens among others leading the club at various points. Success however remained elusive.
In March 2016, Friedhelm Funkel – a native of Neuss – took over as coach of Fortuna Düsseldorf. In his first game as coach, Funkel led the club to a 4–3 win against 1. FC Kaiserslautern, ending a month-long winless streak. Funkel's start as coach marked the beginning of a period of increased stability and success for Fortuna.
At the start the 2017–18 season, two of Fortuna's strongest performers from the previous year, goalkeeper Michael Rensing and forward Ihlas Bebou, were both were lost to the club with Rensing suffering two broken ribs and Bebou transferring to Bundesliga side Hannover 96. A further setback was that Funkel's assistant Peter Hermann asked to be released from his contract with Fortuna in order to rejoin his mentor Jupp Heynckes upon his return to FC Bayern. With these three losses, it appeared that the 2017–18 season could be difficult for Fortuna. However, the club started extremely strongly: on the fourth day of the season, Fortuna had climbed to first place in the table, with a draw and three wins. For the remainder of the year, they would not drop below third place, benefiting from particularly strong play by Rensing's replacement in goal, Raphael Wolf, newly-acquired Belgian forward Benito Raman, striker Rouwen Hennings, and midfielder Florian Neuhaus. A late-season slump saw Fortuna lose three games in succession in early April, but Fortuna won their next two matches, securing promotion to the Bundesliga. In the final game of the season, with promotion already secured, Fortuna defeated 1. FC Nürnberg 3:2 on a last-minute goal thereby securing first place and the 2. Division Championship. For coach Friedhelm Funkel, this marks the sixth time he had led a club to promotion—a German record.