Great Value for Hercules Landlords
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 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 Greek 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.:127 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.
Explosives manufacturing was indeed a hazardous industry in that era: in first 38 years of operations in Hercules, 59 lives would be taken including 24 in large explosion in February 1908. Later, further deadly explosions would plague the plant in 1944, 1948 and 1953. The Sherman Antitrust Act would force Dupont to spin the Hercules Powder Company off as an independent company in 1912.
The explosives manufactured at Hercules played a significant and decisive role in the United States Army's efforts to contain the fires started by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, as recounted by General Funston.