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.