Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors was formed on 15 October in 1897 by Georges Doubitsky, a 15-year old student at the Svenska Reallyceum school in Helsinki. In those early years the club specialised in athletics, football and bandy. The football section was established in 1907, the same year that the Football Association of Finland was founded. The first football match played HIFK was at the Kaisaniemi ground on 17 May 1908 where the new team lost 1-2 to Unitas.
In those early years HIFK were runners-up in the Mestaruussarja (then played as a cup competition) on 5 occasions in 1909, 1912, 1928 and 1929. In addition in 1912 the Finnish Football team at the Stockholm Olympics comprised a team of HIFK players.
HIFK won their first Finnish championship (Mestaruussarja) in 1930 a feat that they were to repeat on three other occasions in 1931, 1933 and 1937 in a tremendous decade for the club. HIFK also won the Mestaruussarja in 1947, 1959 and 1961. In total HIFK won the Finnish championship on 7 occasions.
HIFK was one of the most successful football sides in Finland until the early 1970s when the team were relegated from the Mestaruussarja (Finnish Premier League). After 1972 the team wandered around the lower divisions of Finnish football, having even played in the Nelonen (Fourth Division), the fifth tier of the Finnish football league system, in 1980–83 and 2003–05, and only would return to the first level 43 years later.
In total, since 1930, HIFK have played 29 seasons in the Mestaruussarja (the top tier), 18 seasons in the second tier and 18 seasons in the third tier. Their best spell in recent decades was from 1999 to 2002 when the club participated in the Ykkönen (First Division). However, the club overstretched themselves which resulted in the withdrawal from the Ykkönen at the end of the 2002 season and taking the place of the second team in the Nelonen (Fourth Division) in 2003. More recently HIFK made great progress and returned to Ykkönen (First Division), the second tier of Finnish football for seasons 2011 and 2012 only to be relegated back to Kakkonen after their 2012 season. Back in Kakkonen, HIFK rehired coach Jani Honkavaara who was the coach when HIFK first were promoted to Ykkönen. Since his second term they were able to play in Ykkönen for a third time this millennia, when beating their promotion play-off opponent PS Kemi Kings.
HIFK won Ykkönen in 2014 and thereby were automatically promoted into the highest tier of Finnish football, Veikkausliiga. After securing their promotion, HIFK announced that they would play their 2015 season home games on Sonera Stadium, the home ground of their local rivals HJK Helsinki. In December 2014 HIFK launched a crowdfunding campaign through Invesdor. HIFK aimed to gather 250.000 - 500.000 euros by selling shares of the club valued at 189,70 euros a piece. According to club chairman René Österman, HIFK was in need of funding for the upcoming Veikkausliiga season and crowdfunding gave a chance for the club's supporters to own a part of the club. The campaign ended successfully in January 2015 and HIFK gathered 335.495 euros from 786 investors.