Ardrossan is named after its namesake in Scotland, and was proclaimed in November 1873 by Governor Fergusson. A jetty was constructed in 1878 to accommodate steamships and windjammers used to ship bagged grain, plus to export outward bound cargo including Clarence Smith’s Stump-Jump Ploughs. The factory closed down in 1935 after the Great Depression reduced the buying capacity of farmers across Australia. The town survived due to the income from the surrounding farms, and by steady trickle of tourists arriving from Adelaide by coastal steamers on a regular basis.
In the early 1950s Ardrossan's growth picked up again with the opening of a large dolomite quarry near the western edge of the town by the Broken Hill Proprietary Limited company (BHP). The dolomite is used as a flux in the manufacture of steel at the BHP Whyalla and Port Kembla foundries. A new one kilometre long jetty was constructed by BHP to load the crushed dolomite as well as salt from the Price Salt Works approximately 10 km to the north.
In 1952 the first grain silos in South Australia were also constructed nearby with a conveyor belt taking the grain from the silo directly to the waiting grain ships. Twelve million bushels of wheat were shipped in bulk from the Ardrossan bulk handling complex that year, and more in the following years as farmers from all over the Peninsula began carting their harvested grain to Ardrossan in bulk bins fitted to their trucks. Ardrossan now has bulk storage for approximately fifteen million bushels, the bulk of which is now transported to Port Giles by road transport as the Ardrossan Jetty cannot handle modern, 'Panamax' bulk grain carriers.
In the early 1960s the Coast Road from the Copper/ Coast Road intersection was sealed, greatly improving road transport and reducing traveling time to Adelaide. The sealing of the Coast Road was gradually extended all the way down the east coast of the Peninsula, connecting all the coastal towns, and arriving inland at Yorketown in 1964.
Also about this time mains water arrived in the town via a pipeline from the Paskeville Reservoir, which in turn is linked by a much larger diameter pipeline from the Beetaloo and Bundaleer Reservoirs located in the Flinders Ranges. During drought years these are topped-up via a pipeline off the major Mannum - Whyalla line.