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Neil McPhail, a Canadian emigrant to the United States originally from Scotland, founded the company in 1884 by establishing a livery stable in San Rafael. Teams of McPhail’s horses transported railroad and PG&E work crews as well as the fashionable visitors from San Francisco vacationing at the Hotel Rafael.
Expanded use of the automobile caused the livery business to decline. Therefore, in 1924, Neil’s sons, John and Graham, joined him in creating McPhail Fuel Company. With a power-driven saw and a Model “T” Truck, they cut and delivered wood to Marin County homes. Coal and fuel oil were added to their product portfolio near the end of the decade as customer demand increased for these energy sources.
The company’s natural expansion to heating equipment and appliances occurred in the 1930’s. In addition, the firm endeavored to balance out the seasonal fluctuations in sales and to provide year-round work for their employees. To accomplish this goal, the company purchased two companies, Grady Building Materials and Checla Company, and began selling building materials and ready-mix concrete.
McPhail’s first large ready-mix contract was to provide concrete materials for the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and for the gun emplacements which were built to protect the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Later in the decade, McPhail’s Ready-Mix provided concrete for both tunnels north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
In 1939, McPhail’s constructed a ready-mix concrete plant to supply concrete for the new subdivisions being developed in Marin County after the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge. During the great expansion of the late 1940’s and 1950’s, McPhail’s building supplies were in high demand and its concrete trucks traveled throughout Marin County.
McPhail’s continued its growth by purchasing an oil business in Santa Rosa and a heating and sheet metal business in Petaluma. It soon opened appliance stores in both of those communities.
The last expansion which founder Neil McPhail lived to see was the opening of the San Rafael appliance store and showroom in 1950. McPhail’s newest store included the latest merchandise to be added to the McPhail line – television.
During the next 20 years, McPhail’s built another ready-mix concrete plant in Novato, opened a heating and air conditioning shop in San Rafael and continued the conversion from fuel oil to propane.
In 1974, the company opened its 20,000 square foot Appliance Distribution Center In Petaluma.
In 1978, the company expanded its boundaries by opening a contractors’ appliance outlet in Sacramento. In 1980, it entered the South Bay market by acquiring Miller’s Appliances in San Jose. McPhail’s building materials outlets were expanded by its purchase of Nor-Cal Building Materials in Sonoma County in 1982.
In 1985, McPhail’s converted an old Santa Rosa automobile showroom into a high-tech appliance and electronics warehouse store. McPhail’s was named “Business of the Year” in 1985 by the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce and the City of San Rafael in recognition of its contributions to the community.
McPhail’s ventured into commercial real estate in 1986 by developing the Marin Home Center in San Rafael, a 37,000 square foot shopping center devoted to retailers of select home improvement products.
McPhail’s divested its Ready-Mix/Building Materials operations in 1994 and Appliance division in 1998.
McPhail Fuel Company is proud of its rich heritage and lengthy service to Northern California communities. The company believes that continued success depends on a customer-focused approach and commitment to safety. Future directions of McPhail Fuel Company include a disciplined, prudent expansion into growth markets without compromising its delivery of exceptional service to its existing customer base.