Hercules was built in 1907 by John H. Dialogue and Sons, of Camden, New Jersey. She was built for the Shipowners' and Merchants' Tugboat Company of San Francisco, as part of their Red Stack Fleet. After completion, Hercules was sailed to San Francisco via the Straits of Magellan with her sister ship, Goliah, in tow.
For the first part of her life, Hercules was an oceangoing tug. Because of the prevailing northwest winds, sailing ships often employed Hercules and her sisters on journeys north up the coast from San Francisco. For example, in 1916, Hercules towed C.A. Thayer to Port Townsend, Washington. On return trips back down the coast, Hercules often towed log rafts of Pacific Northwest timber, to Southern California mills. At other times, Hercules was employed towing barges to other ports on the West Coast and to Hawaii, and in transporting equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal.
In 1924, Hercules was acquired by the Western Pacific Railroad. For her new owners, she worked shuttling railroad car floats across San Francisco Bay from Oakland and Alameda to San Francisco. She worked in this role until 1957, when she was replaced by the diesel-powered train ferry Las Plumas. Hercules was kept in a stand-by role to the new ferry until 1961.
The California State Park Foundation acquired Hercules in 1975, and the National Park Service took over her restoration in 1977. In 1986 she was designated a National Historic Landmark. She is now one of the exhibits of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and is to be found moored at the park's Hyde Street Pier.
Hercules from the TV show Tugs is based on this vessel.