Timeline of significant events in the study and use of nuclear fusion:
1929 - Atkinson and Houtermans used the measured masses of low mass elements and applied Einstein's discovery that E=mc² to predict that large amounts of energy could be released by fusing small nuclei together.
1939 - Hans Bethe won the Nobel Prize in physics (awarded 1967) "for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars."
1941 - Enrico Fermi proposes the idea of using a (still hypothetical) fission weapon to initiate nuclear fusion in a mass of hydrogen to Edward Teller. Teller becomes enthusiastic about the idea and works on it (unsuccessfully) throughout the Manhattan Project.
1947 First kiloampere plasma created by a team at the Imperial College, London, in a doughnut shaped glass vacuum vessel. Plasmas are entirely unstable and only last fractions of seconds.
1951 - Argentina made a claim that with the Huemul Project they had harnessed controlled nuclear fusion. This prompted a responsive research effort in the U.S.
Lyman Spitzer started the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (or PPPL) which was originally codenamed Project Matterhorn - most early work was done on a type of magnetic confinement device called a stellarator.
James Tuck, an English physicist, began research at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) under the codename of Project Sherwood, working on pinch magnetic confinement devices. (Some people claimed that the project was named Sherwood based on Friar Tuck)
1951 - Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam at Los Alamos National Laboratory develop the Teller-Ulam design for the hydrogen bomb, allowing for the development of multi-megaton weapons.
1952 - Cousins and Ware built a small toroidal pinch device in England, and demonstrated that instabilities in the plasma make pinch devices inherently unstable.
1952, Ivy Mike shot of Operation Ivy: The first detonation of a hydrogen bomb, yield 10.4 megatons of TNT out of a fusion fuel of liquid deuterium.
1953 - pinch devices in the US and USSR attempted to take the reactions to fusion levels without worrying about stability. Both reported detections of neutrons, which were later explained as non-fusion in nature.
1954 - ZETA device started operation at Harwell south of Oxford in England.
1958 - American, British and Soviet scientists began to share previously classified fusion research, as their countries declassified controlled fusion work as part of the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva
1958 - ZETA experiments ended. Several firings produced neutron spikes that the researchers initially attributed to fusion, but later realized were due to other effects. Last few firings showed an odd "quiet period" of long stability in a system that otherwise appeared to prove itself unstable. Research on pinch machines generally died off as ZETA appeared to be the best that could be done.
1965 (approximate) - The 12 beam "4 pi laser" using ruby as the lasing medium is developed at LLNL includes a gas-filled target chamber of about 20 centimeters in diameter.
1967 - Demonstration of Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor appeared to generate neutrons in a nuclear reaction.
1968 - Results from the T-3 Soviet magnetic confinement device, called a tokamak, which Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov had been working on - showed the temperatures in their machine to be over an order of magnitude higher than what was expected by the rest of the community. The Western scientists visited the experiment and verified the high temperatures and confinement, sparking a wave of optimism for the prospects of the tokamak, which is still the dominant magnetic confinement device today, as well as construction of new experiments.
1972 - The first neodymium-doped glass (Nd:glass) laser for ICF research, the "Long Path laser" is completed at LLNL and is capable of delivering ~50 joules to a fusion target.
1974 - Taylor re-visited ZETA results of 1958 and explained that the quiet-period was in fact very interesting. This led to the development of "reversed field pinch", now generalized as "self-organizing plasmas", an ongoing line of research.
Construction completes and inertial confinement fusion experiments begin on the two beam Janus laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
1975 - Experiments commence on the single beam LLNL Cyclops laser, testing new optical designs for future ICF lasers.
1976 - Design work on JET, the Joint European Torus, began.
The two beam Argus laser is completed at LLNL and experiments involving more advanced laser-target interactions are begun.
1977 - The 20 beam Shiva laser at LLNL is completed and is capable of delivering 10.2 kilojoules of infrared energy on target. At a price of $25 million and a size approaching that of a football field, the Shiva laser is the first of the "megalasers" at LLNL and brings the field of ICF research fully within the realm of "big science".
1978 - The JET project was given the go-ahead by then EC. The chosen site was an ex-RAF airfield south east of Oxford, UK.
1982 - Tore Supra construction was started at Cadarache, France. Its superconducting magnets permitted it to generate a strong permanent toroidal magnetic field. 
1983 - JET was completed on time and on budget. First plasmas achieved.
The NOVETTE laser at LLNL comes on line and is used as a test bed for the next generation of ICF lasers, specifically the NOVA laser.
1984 - The huge 10 beam NOVA laser at LLNL is completed and switches on in December. NOVA would ultimately produce a maximum of 120 kilojoules of infrared laser light during a nanosecond pulse in a 1989 experiment.
1985 - The Japanese tokamak, JT-60 was completed. First plasmas achieved.
1988 - The T-15, Soviet tokamak with superconducting helium-cooled coils was completed.
1988 - The Conceptual Design Activity for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the successor to T-15, TFTR, JET and JT-60, began. Participants were EURATOM, Japan, Soviet Union and United States. It ended in 1990.
1988 - The first plasma was produced in Tore Supra in April. 
1989 - On March 23, two Utah electrochemists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, announced that they had achieved cold fusion: fusion reactions which could occur at room temperatures. However, they made their announcements before any peer review of their work was performed, and no subsequent experiments by other researchers revealed any evidence of fusion.
1990 - Decision to construct the NIF "beamlet" laser at LLNL is made.
1991 - The START Tokamak fusion experiment began in Culham. The experiment would eventually achieve a record beta (plasma pressure compared to magnetic field pressure) of 40% using a neutral beam injector. It was the first design that adapted the conventional toroidal fusion experiments into a tighter spherical design.
1992 - The Engineering Design Activity for the ITER began. Participants were EURATOM, Japan, Russia and United States. It ended in 2001.
1993 - The TFTR tokamak at Princeton (PPPL) experimented with 50% deuterium, 50% tritium, eventually producing as much as 10 megawatts of power from a controlled fusion reaction.
1994 - NIF Beamlet laser is complete and begins experiments validating the expected performance of NIF.
1996 - A record was reached at Tore Supra: a plasma duration of two minutes with a current of almost 1 million amperes driven non-inductively by 2.3 MW of lower hybrid frequency waves (i.e. 280 MJ of injected and extracted energy). This result was possible due to the actively cooled plasma-facing components installed in the machine. This result opened the way to the active control of steady state plasma discharges and the associated physics. 
1997 - The JET tokamak in the UK produced 16 MW of fusion power - the current world record for fusion power. Four megawatts of alpha particle self-heating was achieved.
Combining a field-reversed pinch with an imploding magnetic cylinder resulted in the new Magnetized Target Fusion concept in the U.S.. In this system a "normal" lower density plasma device was explosively squeezed using techniques developed for high-speed gun research.
1998 - The JT-60 tokamak in Japan produced a high performance reversed shear plasma with the equivalent fusion amplification factor Qeq of 1.25 - the current world record of Q.
1999 - The United States withdrew from the ITER project.
The START Experiment was succeeded by MAST.
2001 - Building construction for the immense 192 beam 500 terawatt NIF project is completed and construction of laser beamlines and target bay diagnostics commences. The NIF is expected to take its first full system shot in 2010.
Negotiations Meeting on the Joint Implementation of ITER begins. Participants were Canada, European Union, Japan and Russia.
2002 - Claims and counter-claims were published regarding bubble fusion, in which a table-top apparatus was reported as producing small-scale fusion in a liquid undergoing acoustic cavitation. Like cold fusion, it was later dismissed.
European Union proposed Cadarache in France and Vandellos in Spain as candidate sites for ITER while Japan proposed Rokkasho.
2003 - The United States rejoined the ITER project, and China and Republic of Korea newly joined while Canada withdrew.
2003 - Cadarache in France selected as the European Candidate Site for ITER.
Sandia National Laboratories began fusion experiments in the Z machine.
2004 - The United States dropped its own project, the Fusion Ignition Research Experiment (FIRE), to focus resources on ITER.
2005 - Following final negotiations between the EU and Japan, ITER chose Cadarache over Rokkasho for the site of the reactor. In concession, Japan was made the host site for a related materials research facility and was granted rights to fill 20% of the project's research posts while providing 10% of the funding.
The NIF fires its first bundle of 8 beams achieving the highest ever energy laser pulse of 152.8 Kj (infrared).
2006 - China's EAST test reactor is completed, the first tokamak experiment to use superconducting magnets to generate both the toroidal and poloidal fields.
Construction of ITER was originally planned to start at the end of 2005, but will probably be delayed until 2008.