Madera County was formed in 1893 from Fresno County during a special election held in Fresno on May 16, 1893. Citizens residing in the area that was to become Madera County voted 1,179 to 358 for separation from Fresno County and the establishment of Madera County.
Madera is the Spanish term for wood. The county derives its name from the town of Madera, named when the California Lumber Company built a log flume to carry lumber to the Central Pacific Railroad there in 1876.
The Madera County Sheriff's Department employed the first woman in California to die in the line of duty as a sworn law enforcement officer—Tulare native Lucille Helm (1914–1959). For 15 years, the Madera housewife and mother of four worked on call as a "matron" assisting with female transfers.