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Hercules is a city in western Contra Costa County, California. Situated along the coast of San Pablo Bay, it is located in the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, about 10 miles (16 km) north of Berkeley, California. As of 2010, its population was 24,060, according to the United States Census Bureau. The site of Hercules was first developed in 1881 as a manufacturing facility of the California Powder Works for the production of its patented dynamite formulation, Hercules powder. In 1882, the Hercules Powder Company was incorporated and assumed responsibility for the Hercules site. It was one of several explosive manufacturers that were active along the Pinole shoreline in the late 19th to the mid-20th century. The small company town that grew up near the facility subsequently became known as “Hercules”, and was incorporated at the end of 1900. Starting in the 1970s, Hercules was heavily redeveloped as suburban bedroom community that lies along the I-80 corridor in Western Contra Costa County. It has a very ethnically diverse population.
Contra Costa County’s first inhabitants arrived in the area six to ten thousand years ago, including the Bay Miwok people and the Huichin Ohlone People; however there were no known significant settlements in the Hercules area.
The land that would become Hercules was part of a tract of land known as “Pinole y Canada del Hambre” which was granted in 1823 to Ygnacio Martinez (for whom the city of Martinez, California was named) for his service as the commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco. This grant was reconfirmed in 1842 as Rancho El Pinole. In 1848, this area became part of the United States with the rest of California. Contra Costa County was created in 1850 as one of California’s original 27 counties. The Central Pacific Railroad (later part of Southern Pacific) ran the first rail lines across Hercules’ waterfront in late 1878, as the main route for the Transcontinental Railroad was realigned via train ferry through the purpose-built town of Port Costa then to Richmond and Berkeley to connect at the Oakland Pier. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad came through the area around 1899.
The city’s history was primarily shaped by the Hercules Powder Company, named after its main product “Hercules powder”, a specially patented (1874) formulation of dynamite, in turn named after the Roman hero. It began as the California Powder Works with locations in Golden Gate Park and Santa Cruz, California, but the expansion of San Francisco forced the company to find a more remote location for the dangerous process of manufacturing explosives. Hercules’s isolated location at the time, plus its proximity to rail and water transportation along San Pablo Bay, made it an ideal choice. In 1879, the company, backed by DuPont and the Laflin & Rand Powder Company created the Hercules Powder Company which purchased land for a new plant that opened in 1881. On December 15, 1900, town management incorporated the City of Hercules as it felt that the County Board of Supervisors had become less supportive of the plant. A post office was established in 1914. On USGS maps the place designation Herpoco (for Hercules Powder Company) along the original Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway right-of-way (now BNSF), still remains.Learn more about Hercules.