Invergordon started life as the northern terminus of a ferry across the Cromarty Firth to Balblair on the Black Isle. This formed part of a network of routes that for centuries was used by pilgrims making their way to the chapel dedicated to St Duthac in Tain.
Real growth came in the 1700s when a planned town was laid out on a grid pattern by the Gordons of Invergordon. The first real harbour was constructed in 1828, and it has been repeatedly expanded and enhanced since. From 1834 Invergordon was served by a steamer service from Glasgow, which used the Caledonian Canal and called at Cromarty en route.
In 1913 Invergordon became a strategic base for the Royal Navy and the focus of activity in what has often been called the best natural harbour in Europe. In December 1915 the cruiser HMS Natal was hosting a reception for local dignitaries off Invergordon when, for reasons never satisfactorily explained, it blew up and capsized, with the loss of 400 lives. A memorial garden in the town recalls this tragic event.
In 1931, rumours of planned pay cuts of up to 25% led to a concerted mutiny among the crews of all the Royal Navy ships based at Invergordon. The admiralty had to back down and reduce the size of the proposed cuts. The naval base closed in 1956, but large tank farms to the east of the town indicate its continuing role as a naval refuelling station.
From the late 1950s, Invergordon became a centre for the production of grain spirit, and the major distillery that resulted still dominates the eastern side of the town. Less successful was the Invergordon aluminium smelter, constructed from the end of the 1960s. This employed around 1,000 people at its peak of production, but was probably an enterprise whose demise was inevitable from the start: the costs of transmitting the electricity needed to smelt bauxite imported by sea from Jamaica simply made the operation uneconomic. The smelter was closed in 1981.
Since then, Invergordon has seen another industry boom and decline. Although the oil rig fabrication yards to the east, at Nigg, are now less used than they were, Invergordon itself remains an important centre for the maintenance of rigs, and a number which have been mothballed can usually see in a line along the Cromarty Firth: and those actually undergoing work dominate the town.
The deep water access and excellent shelter of the Cromarty Firth has brought another benefit to Invergordon, which is now a regular port of call for liners which berth here to allow passengers to experience something of what the Highlands has to offer.