The Port of Benicia is located on the northern bank of the Carquinez Strait in the San Francisco Bay Area in central California. A waterside city in Solano County, it was California's first city to be established by Anglo Americans. It was the capital of California for thirteen months in the mid 1800s. In 2000, over 26 thousand people called the Port of Benicia home.
The Port of Benicia is just 1.4 kilometers north-northwest of the Shell Oil Terminal across the Carquinez Strait in Martinez, California. It is only 31 kilometers northeast of the Port of Oakland and 40 kilometers northeast of the Port of San Francisco.
Robert Semple, Thomas Larkin, and Comandante General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo founded the city of Benicia in 1847. The Port of Benicia was the sixth capital of California, serving the State for fifteen months in 1853-1854. It was also the seat of Solano County until 1858.
The first women's college west of the Rockies, the Young Ladies Seminary (now Mills College), was founded in the Port of Benicia in 1852. In 1889, a legendary prize fight between James J. Corbett and Joe Choynski, lasting 28 rounds, was held on a barge off Benicia's shores.
One of California's earliest companies, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, built an important shipyard in the Port of Benicia in the 18th Century, and the port soon became an important site for shipping and storing wheat. It was also home to the US Army's Benicia Arsenal.
The Central Pacific Railroad built a major railroad ferry to transport goods and people across the Carquinez Strait between the Port of Benicia and Port Costa in 1879. For a time, the world's biggest ferries carried whole trains across the Strait on their way to Oakland. The world's first long-distance power lines crossed the Strait in 1901.
California production of wheat fell in the early 1900s, and the Southern Pacific Railroad replaced the ferry crossing with a bridge in 1930. From that time until World War II, the Port of Benicia's economic fortunes declined. However, during the war, the Port of Benicia's population doubled to around seven thousand.
In the early 1960s, two events dramatically changed the Port of Benicia. The Benicia Arsenal was closed in the early 1960s, and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge was completed in 1962. When the Arsenal closed, it took with it the Port of Benicia's economic base. However, city leaders converted the old Arsenal grounds into an industrial park that eventually produced more income for the city than had the Army. The Bridge made the Port of Benicia a suburb of the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area, and the Benicia hills saw much new development in the late 1960s.
The Port of Benicia has an infamous heritage as well. In 1968, the Zodiac Killer made his first kills near the Port of Benicia's water pumping station. Later that year, he struck again at a park adjacent to the city.
In 1969, Humble Oil (Exxon) built an oil refinery northeast of the Port of Benicia. From the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, the population of the Port of Benicia grew steadily. The city's profile changed from an economically-stressed blue collar town to a mostly white-collar bedroom suburb of some 28 thousand residents.