Smith Island was discovered by José María Narváez in 1791, which he called Isla de Bonilla. It received its present name from Hudson's Bay Company traders in the first half of the 19th century.
The Smith Island Light was constructed on the island in 1858. Originally, this stood about 200 feet away from the island's western edge. The bluff began to erode, and when the bluff reached the front door in the 1950s, the lighthouse was abandoned. During the 1980s until the spring of 1998, the last part of the broken lighthouse clung precariously to the bluff.
The lighthouse was replaced with an automated navigational light 97 feet high. Minor Island also has a light. The island is also the site of a weather station operated by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.