The first Inchkeith Lighthouse was established in 1786. Lighthouse Engineer Thomas Smith tested a new oil lamp with a reflector that he had designed. The remains of this tower are still visible.
Located in the middle of the Firth of Forth, the current Inchkeith Lighthouse was built in 1803. Designed by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson, it was first lit on 14th September 1804.
The two-storey castellated tower is unusually painted a sandy yellow. It was built on the top of a fort constructed by the French after capturing the island in 1549.
In 1815 the fixed light became one of the first revolving lights, making it distinct from the Isle of May’s fixed light.
Due to Edinburgh’s proximity, an experimental light was established by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1835 by Alan Stevenson. This was the first dioptric light to be installed, using an oil burner, lenses and rows of curved mirrors. The old apparatus was later transferred to Cape Spear Lighthouse in Newfoundland.
In 1889 a new second-order optic was installed by David A Stevenson, and a new system installed again in 1985.
The former optic of 1889 is on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
In 1899 a fog horn using compressed air was installed, remaining in operation until after World War 2. An experimental diaphone fog signal was installed in 1958 on nearby Inchcolm island, controlled by radio from Inchkeith. This was replaced in 1986 by an automatic electric signal, which was discontinued around 2004.
The lighthouse was automated in 1986 and the operation transferred to Forth Ports plc in 2013.
Inchkeith Island has served many uses over the years and was also used as a base during various wars. There is still much evidence of bunkers and gun emplacements around the island.