Modesto (Spanish for "modest"), officially the City of Modesto, is the county seat and largest city of Stanislaus County, California, United States. With a population of approximately 201,165 at the 2010 census, Modesto ranks as the 18th largest city in the state of California. The Modesto Census County Division, which includes the cities of Ceres and Riverbank, has a population of 312,842 as of 2010.
Modesto is located in the Central Valley area of Northern California, 90 miles north of Fresno, 92 miles east of San Francisco, 68 miles south of the state capital of Sacramento, 66 miles west of Yosemite National Park, and 24 miles south of Stockton. Modesto, a 29-time Tree City USA honoree, is surrounded by rich farmland, lending to a ranking for the county as 6th among all California counties in farm production. Led by milk, almonds, chickens, walnuts, and corn silage, the county grossed nearly $3.1 billion in agricultural production in 2011.
Modesto was immortalized in the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti. The award winning film captured the spirit of "cruising" and friendship on 10th and 11th Streets in 1962 and led to the revival of 1950's nostalgia that included the TV show Happy Days and the other spin-offs. Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss starred in the film. The soundtrack was a huge success. Director George Lucas is a native of Modesto, graduating from Downey High School in 1962.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2011, which interviews 1,000 participants daily and asks individuals to assess their jobs, finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities, ranked Modesto 126 out of the 190 cities surveyed. In December 2009, Forbes ranked Modesto 48th out of 100 among "Best Bang-for-the-Buck Cities". In this ranking, Modesto ranked 8th in housing affordability and travel time but also ranked 86th in job forecast growth and 99th in foreclosures.
Modesto, originally a stop on the railroad connecting Sacramento to Los Angeles, was founded in 1870 and was to be named for William C. Ralston, financier of many projects in early California. However, he declined the suggestion and a Spanish-speaking railroad worker at the naming ceremony said that Ralston was "Muy modesto" (very modest). Thus, the town was named Modesto. It is unknown at this time if this story is mere folklore or fact.
The city was incorporated in 1884, at which time it had over 1000 people. With fields of grain and the proximity of the river (grain barges during the flood season) and railroad traffic, the town grew. Later, dams were installed in the foothills, irrigation water came, and irrigated fields of vegetables and fruit or nut trees prospered. By 1900, its population was over 4,500. During World War II, the area provided canned goods, powdered milk, and eggs for the US armed forces and allied forces. For the next few decades, Modesto's population grew at about two percent per year to over 100,000 in 1980, and over 200,000 in 2001.
Modesto's official slogan is "Water Wealth Contentment Health," which is emblazoned on a large downtown arch featured in local photographs and postcards. A contest was run in 1911 to determine the slogan. The original winning slogan was: "Nobody's got Modesto's goat". The second place entry was the final winner.