Past Cities

Bakersfield, California, United States

Loading map...

The History of Bakersfield, California, United States

Bakersfield, a city nestled in the southern region of California's San Joaquin Valley, has a rich and fascinating history that is deeply intertwined with the political environment and geography of the area. From its humble beginnings as a small settlement to its status as one of California's prominent cities, Bakersfield has undergone significant transformations, shaped by various historical events and the ever-evolving socio-political landscape.

The region now known as Bakersfield was originally inhabited by the Yokuts and Kawaiisu Native American tribes. These indigenous communities lived off the land, utilizing the fertile soil and abundant resources provided by the Kern River. However, the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 18th century marked the beginning of European influence in the area.

In 1776, Spanish Franciscan priest Father Francisco Garcés ventured into the San Joaquin Valley, establishing the Mission San Fernando Rey de España. While the mission was not located directly in what would become Bakersfield, it played a significant role in the region's history by introducing European settlement and Catholicism to the area.

During the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century, California came under American control. The subsequent Gold Rush in the late 1840s brought an influx of settlers to the state, including the San Joaquin Valley. However, it was not until the discovery of gold near the Kern River in 1851 that Bakersfield began to develop as a community.

In 1863, Colonel Thomas Baker, a local lawyer and entrepreneur, laid out the foundation for the town of Bakersfield. He envisioned a prosperous city that would serve as a center for trade and commerce in the San Joaquin Valley. The town's growth was accelerated with the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1874, which connected Bakersfield to the rest of California and facilitated the transportation of goods and people.

The political environment of Bakersfield was shaped by the arrival of migrants from various backgrounds seeking economic opportunities. Immigrants from Mexico, Europe, and the eastern United States brought their cultural influences, further enriching the city's diverse tapestry. The agricultural industry, particularly the cultivation of crops like cotton, alfalfa, and citrus fruits, became the backbone of Bakersfield's economy, attracting both migrant workers and entrepreneurs.

As Bakersfield grew, so did its population. In 1890, the city had approximately 3,500 residents, and by 1910, it had surged to around 22,000 inhabitants. The early 20th century witnessed a boom in oil production, which significantly impacted the city's trajectory. The discovery of oil fields in the vicinity led to the establishment of oil refineries and attracted oil companies such as Standard Oil and Gulf Oil. The oil industry brought immense wealth and prosperity to Bakersfield, transforming it into a major center for oil production in California.

However, the city was not immune to the challenges and hardships that plagued the nation during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The agricultural industry suffered greatly due to the economic downturn, leading to unemployment and poverty in the region. Bakersfield's population was severely affected, as many residents left in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

In the mid-20th century, Bakersfield experienced a period of rapid growth and development. The post-World War II era saw an influx of veterans and families seeking a suburban lifestyle, leading to the expansion of residential areas and the construction of new neighborhoods. The city's population surpassed 100,000 in the 1950s and continued to grow steadily in the following decades.