Oakdale was founded in 1871 when the Stockton & Visalia Railroad met the Copperopolis Railroad. Often referred to as the "Cowboy Capital of the World", Oakdale's economy centers on agriculture, food manufacturing, and tourism. The Oakdale Rodeo is a popular destination for all cowboys and cowgirls in the area. The Oakdale Cowboy Museum is another huge destination for all wanting to learn about the history of the Wild West.
Oakdale was the home to the Oakdale Hershey Plant, a satellite plant of Hershey Chocolate. It opened in May 1965, operated the Hershey's Oakdale Visitor Center and Shop in town, and employed about 575 local people. The town is home to another large manufacturing plant, ConAgra Foods Hunt's, which is one of the largest tomato processing plants in the world. Cattle ranching is another common practice in the area.