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; they captured a district level Bezirksliga title in 1927, sent their first representative to the German national side in 1928 (Ernst Albrecht), and took a second Bezirksliga title in 1929. The team continued to perform well into the 1930s winning their third and fourth district titles on their way to a Western German football championship in 1931 and their greatest success, a German football championship in 1933 against FC Schalke 04, who were 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. They beat Vorwärts-Rasensport Gleiwitz (9:0), Arminia Hannover (3:0), Eintracht Frankfurt (4:0) and finally FC Schalke 04 (3:0) on their way to the become first national champion from the industrial Rhine-Ruhr area.
The following season the club began play in Gauliga Niederrhein, one of sixteen top-flight divisions formed in the re-organization of German football under the Third Reich. Düsseldorf dominated the division through the 30s as 5 times champions between 1936 and 1940 and made losing appearances in the national championship final in 1936 (1:2 to 1. FC Nuremberg) and the final of the Tschammerpokal, predecessor of today's DFB-Pokal (German Cup), in 1937 (1:2 against FC Schalke). The club was relegated in 1942 but made a prompt return to the top flight the following season. In 1944–45 they 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 Denmark 8:0 in Breslau in 1937 and went on to win 10 out 11 games played during that year, Stanislaus Kobierski, who earned 26 caps and scored Germany's first ever World Cup goal, Ernst Albrecht and Jakob Bender.
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. They played as a lower-to-mid table side but did earn three appearances in the German Cup final in – 1957, 1958 and 1962 – but were not able to take the prize, losing each of those matches (against FC Bayern Munich, VFB Stuttgart and 1. FC Nuremberg). It was also the time of famous Toni Turek, goal keeper 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 who played in the Fortuna midfield.
The club's performance was not good enough to earn them a place among the original sixteen teams chosen for the newly founded Bundesliga in 1963, but they did manage to play their way into the premier division three years later for a cameo appearance in the 1966–67 season. Despite a sensational 2:1 away win at recently crowned European Cup Winners Cup winners Borussia Dortmund in their Bundesliga premiere game Fortuna were immediately relegated, but returned in 1971 for a stay that lasted sixteen seasons and that included two third place league finishes (in the 1972/73 and 1973/1974 seasons). On December, the 9th, 1978 Fortuna obtained a 7:1 victory against FC Bayern Munich, up to date the highest away defeat for Germanys top club in their overall Bundesliga-history. In addition Fortuna continued prosperous in German Cup play, making another three appearances: after losing in their fifth appearance in the final in 1978 against local rivals 1. FC Köln 0:2, they finally broke through and came away as cupholders in 1979 (1:0 against Hertha BSC Berlin) and then repeated in 1980 (2:1 against 1. FC Köln). In this period they established a record for consecutive German Cup match victories (18 straight victories between 1978 and 1981).
Fortuna is among a group of four teams which have made frequent appearances in the German Cup final only to come away empty handed. Like 1. FC Kaiserslautern they have just two wins against fives losses. 1. FC Köln has four wins and six losses in the Cup final, while FC Schalke 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 they finished as runners up to FC Barcelona, losing 4:3 in extra time in an exciting finale at Basle. It was the first of four occasions that the Catalan club won the tournament.
Esprit arena in Düsseldorf. View from the Warsteiner Tribüne. Match: Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. FC St. Pauli.
Since 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 they escaped relegation to tier IV only because two other clubs were denied licenses to play in tier III for financial reasons. Fortuna had their own money problems at the time, but have since managed to put their house more or less back into order. Between 2001 and 2003 the club was sponsored by the German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen.
In 2008–09 Fortuna competed in the new 3rd Liga, and finished 2nd, gaining automatic promotion to 2. Bundesliga, where they finished 4th in their 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, the 2010–11 season began badly for Fortuna. After the first six games of the season they were in last place, having lost every match. During these first six games they 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, five draws and not a single loss. 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 their pace. They 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 Berlin. 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. However the fans of the opposing team (Hertha BSC) threw firecrackers at the field and the players. One minute before the game ended overexcited Fortuna fans stormed the field.
The promotion to Bundesliga represents an extraordinary personal achievement for team captain Andreas Lambertz nicknamed "Lumpi", as he is 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 marks the fourth time in his career that he has been promoted from the Second Division into the Bundesliga.
Coming with the recent promotion the club achieved a new record in German Football History: Fortuna is the only German club that were relegated from the Bundesliga down to a 4th level league (time period of downfall: 1997–2002) and promoted back to the Bundesliga afterwards (time period of uprising: 2004–2012)! After losing to Hannover 96 in the last game of the Bundesliga season 2012–13, Fortuna finished 17th and were again relegated back to 2nd tier of German Football.