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Images of America: Hercules

Dynamite transformed the explosives industry — and made our modern industrial world possible. In the San Francisco Bay Area, bold, ruthless and visionary men called forth one of the earliest recognizably modern industries.

The history of explosives manufacturing in Hercules began in 1879, when the California Powder Works acquired a site on San Pablo Bay, 20 miles northeast of San Francisco. The powder works, subsequently owned by Dupont and the Hercules Powder Company, produced one of the first internationally branded products: Hercules dynamite. It became the world’s leading producer of TNT during World War I. The town of Hercules was incorporated in 1900, and for nearly 75 years, its population remained under 300. The company-owned village had no retail district, but its employee clubhouse was the anchor for the city’s social life. After the explosives plant closed, buildings comprising a small historic district were restored, while a diverse residential suburb grew rapidly around it.

This first history of Hercules, California describes the earliest story of technological and industrial innovation that assured California’s place on the global stage. With over two hundred photographs, visit the places and meet the people who lived — and sometimes died — in an often-overlooked industry, fundamental to every aspect of our lives today.

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Author Bio: Jennifer Posedel’s (nee Dowling) previous books include Rodeo and Theatres of Oakland. Stephen Lawton is a past board member of the Contra Costa County Historical Society and is chair of the Contra Costa County Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee. They collaborated with the Hercules Historical Society, using images from corporate archives and the family albums of former company personnel. Proceeds from the sale of each book will benefit the Hercules Historical Society.
Publication: May 2, 2011