Bakersfield is a city near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, California. It is roughly equidistant between Fresno and Los Angeles, which are to the north and south, respectively. In the 2010 census, the city’s population was 347,483, making it the 9th largest city in California and the 52nd largest city in the United States. The city is also the county seat for Kern County, which encompasses the entire MSA and is the third largest county in California by area. The total Bakersfield inner urban area, which includes East Bakersfield and Rosedale, has a population of about 464,000.
Bakersfield is the focal point of the larger Bakersfield-Delano, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is coextensive with Kern County. In 2010, it had a population of 839,631, making it the 62nd largest metropolitan area in United States.
Bakersfield has a very diverse economy with industries including agriculture, natural gas and other energy extraction, aerospace, mining, petroleum refining, manufacturing, distribution, food processing, and corporate/regional headquarters.
Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of Native American settlements dating back thousands of years. The Yokuts lived in lodges along the branches of the Kern River Delta and hunted antelope, tule elk, deer, bear, fish, and game birds. In 1776, Spanish missionary Father Francisco Garcés became the first European to explore the area. Owing to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region, however, the Yokuts remained largely isolated until after the Mexican War of Independence, when Mexican settlers began to migrate to the area. Following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, settlers flooded into the San Joaquin Valley. In 1851, gold was discovered along the Kern River in the southern Sierra Nevada, and in 1865, oil was discovered in the valley. The Bakersfield area, once a tule-reed-covered marshland, was first known as Kern Island to the handful of pioneers who built log cabins there in 1860. The area was subject to periodic flooding from the Kern River, which occupied what is now the downtown area, and experienced outbreaks of malaria.
In 1862, disastrous floods swept away the original settlement founded in 1860 by the German-born Christian Bohna. Among those attracted to the area by the California gold rush was Thomas Baker, a lawyer and former colonel in the militia of Ohio, his home state. Baker moved to the banks of the Kern River in 1863, at what became known as Baker’s Field, which became a stopover for travelers. By 1870, with a population of 600, what is now known as Bakersfield was becoming the principal town in Kern County.
In 1873, Bakerfield was officially incorporated as a city, and by 1874 it officially replaced the dying town of Havilah as the county seat. Alexander Mills was hired as the city marshall, a man one historian would describe as "...an old man by the time he became Marshal of Bakersfield, and he walked with a cane. But he was a Kentuckian, a handy man with a gun, and not lacking in initiative and resource when the mood moved him." Business men and others began to resent Mills, who was cantankerous and high-handed in his treatment of them. Wanting to fire him but fearing reprisals, they came up with a scheme to disincorporate, effectively leaving him without an employer. According to local historian Gilbert Gia, the city was also failing to collect the taxes it needed for services. In 1876, the city voted to disincorporate. For the next 22 years, a citizen's council managed the community.
By 1880, the town had a population of 801, and by 1890, it had a population of 2,626. Migration from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Southern California brought new residents, who were mostly employed by the oil industry.
The city reincorporated on January 11, 1898.
On July 21, 1952, an earthquake struck at 4:52 am Pacific Standard Time. The earthquake, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and was felt from San Francisco to the Mexican border, destroyed the nearby communities of Tehachapi and Arvin. The earthquake's destructive force also bent cotton fields into U shapes, slid a shoulder of the Tehachapi Mountains across all four lanes of the Ridge Route, collapsed a water tower creating a flash flood, and destroyed the railroad tunnels in the mountain chain. Bakersfield was spared, experiencing minor architectural damage without loss of life.
A large aftershock occurred on July 29, and did minor architectural damage, but raised fears that the flow of the Friant-Kern Canal could be dangerously altered, potentially flooding the city and surrounding areas.
Aftershocks, for the next month, had become normal to Bakersfield residents, until August 22 at 3:42 pm a 5.8 earthquake struck directly under the town's center in the most densely populated area of the southern San Joaquin Valley. Four people died in the aftershock, and many of the town's historic structures were permanently lost.
20th and 21st centuries
Over the 40-year period between 1970 and 2010, Bakersfield has grown 400% (from 70,000 to 347,483), making it one of the fastest-growing cities in California.
Bakersfield's close proximity to mountain passes, primarily the Tejon Pass on Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley, has made the city a transportation hub.
In 2010, the Bakersfield MSA had a gross metropolitan product of $29.466 billion, making it the 73rd largest metropolitan economy in the United States.