Bakersfield was settled in 1858 by a handful of families who had trekked northward through the El Tejon Pass seeking home sites rather than gold. The town was named by an early settler, Colonel Thomas Baker, who invited the weary travelers through the valley to rest overnight. These travelers would plan in advance to meet and rest in "Colonel Baker's field." Baker formally laid out the town in 1869, and within two years the city had a telegraph office, two stores, a newspaper, two boarding houses, one doctor, a wagon shop, a harness shop, one attorney, a saloon, and fifty school pupils. The Bakersfield Centennial Garden and Convention Center rests on part of the original Colonel Baker's field as well as the Centennial Plaza community park.
The City of Bakersfield was first incorporated in 1873, and in the same year, the County seat was moved from the booming little town of Havilah to Bakersfield. Three years later, the town decided to disincorporate. It was not until 1898 that the community incorporated again. The 1910, the City of Kern, formerly the Town of Sumner (East Bakersfield), annexed to the City of Bakersfield.
In 1915, the citizens of the City of Bakersfield adopted a charter calling for the city to operate under the council-manager form of government. This charter provides that the governing body of the city shall be the city council composed of seven members, one to be elected from each of the seven wards of the city for four years, overlapping terms, with a mayor elected from the council. In 1957, the charter was amended to elect a mayor at large.