is a city in Contra Costa County, California, United States. The population was 19,488 at the 2000 census, but has since grown significantly; the Census Bureau estimated that its population was 24,776 in 2006. Formerly just one of many small bedroom-communities along the I-80 corridor in Western Contra Costa County, the city is undergoing a metamorphosis into a transit-oriented, mixed-use town. It is located about northeast of San Francisco, and approximately a half-hour drive (without traffic) from either Oakland or San Francisco. Neighboring towns are Pinole to the southwest, Rodeo to the north, as well as Martinez to the east via CA-4.
The population generally ranges between middle class to affluent and is ethnically very diverse. The town has some light manufacturing and high-tech industry (most notably Bio-Rad Laboratories, a Fortune 500 company, is based here) as well as various commercial and retail activities. Most of the housing and other building stock is from the 1970s or newer. A large amount of mixed-use new development is happening especially in the waterfront district and around the intersection of I-80 and CA-4. The waterfront redevelopment includes the historic preservation and integration of several 100 year old buildings that remain from the original company town (see history below).
The town was established as company housing by the California Powder Works in 1881 when it relocated its operations from San Francisco. Hercules was named after the company's leading brand of explosive, in turn named after the mythical hero. Powder manufacturing was an extremely dangerous endeavor at the time, and uncontrolled explosions were frequent (indeed 59 workers died in the first 40 years of operation at this site). Hercules' isolated location at the time, plus its proximity to rail and water transportation along San Pablo Bay, made it an ideal choice. The explosives manufactured at Hercules played a significant and decisive role in the Army's efforts to contain the fires started by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, as recounted by General Funston.
Considerable study has been made of the heavy metal lead accumulated as upper layer soil contamination from prior air pollution stack emissions from the California Powder Works operations from this era.
Hercules contributed significantly to the production of explosives during both World Wars. By the Second World War, the plant had diversified to produce fertilizers and other chemical products. Eventually the facility was out-competed by foreign manufacturers, and the plant was closed in 1976. However, by this time the surrounding area was experiencing rapid growth as the commuter belt moved further outward from San Francisco. By the mid 1970’s Centex Homes and other developers began to build new subdivisions and changed Hercules into the residential suburb as it was known up until the late 1990s. Back in the 1970s, Hercules was one of the first cities in the United States to develop a comprehensive Noise Element of the General Plan. This work included the production of noise contour maps for all major highways and arterials, as well as a city wide mitigation plan.
Hercules incorporated in 1900. The first post office was established in 1914. By the 1940s Hercules organized its own law enforcement department and longtime Hercules Powder Company employee William Darke was named sheriff, becoming its first officer.