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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The McMan Oil Company was one of the leading independent petroleum producers in Oklahoma. Robert M. McFarlin and James A. Chapman founded the enterprise in 1912. Chapman was McFarlin's nephew and in 1908 became his son-in-law by marrying Leta Mae McFarlin. The two men had partnered successfully in 1903 in creating the Holdenville Oil and Gas Company to develop the Glenn Pool Field. McFarlin owned ten acres in the center of the huge field, making Holdenville Oil and Gas a major producer. After enjoying success in Holdenville, McFarlin and Chapman decided to dedicate their business lives to the petroleum industry.

At the beginning of 1911 wildcatter Tom Slick began drilling test wells around Cushing. Although the first wells were disappointments, in March 1912 he brought in two wells to open the Cushing Field. This field soon dwarfed Glenn Pool in size and production. When it became evident that Cushing was a strike of historic proportions, McFarlin and Chapman founded the McMan Oil Company to participate in the boom. The company was created on July 12, 1912, with offices in Tulsa's Drew Building. The original stockholders were Robert McFarlin, James Chapman, Phillip Chapman (James Chapman's father), and E. P. Harwell. The latter was a longtime friend of the founders and served as secretary-treasurer. Chapman was president and McFarlin vice president. The initial valuation was $100,000.

By summer 1912 Cushing was a boomtown, and there was an almost frantic race to locate the extent of the field. McFarlin and Chapman chose to develop proven areas rather than sink exploratory wells. The capital earned at Glenn Pool allowed them to develop their leases without partners. McMan drilled its first wells at Cushing in late summer 1912. In September the initial strike was made. The first well quickly slowed in production until it was pushed deeper, striking the Layton sand formation, and opened a huge reservoir of crude oil. McMan's discovery was shallower than Slick's and therefore cheaper and easier to produce. McFarlin and Chapman quickly expanded drilling into the Layton sand. In October 1912 they brought in their second well, producing five hundred barrels a day. The Oil and Gas Journal noted that "the finding of the Layton sand in such paying quantities started a lot of work in the close vicinity of this well." Within four weeks McMan and competitors had drilled more than fifty wells in close proximity to the first large producer.

McMan's big well assured the company's success and proved that the Cushing Field was a major find. The field eventually stretched for miles along the Cimarron River. McMan continued to drill successfully in Cushing, and in 1913 the firm added Harry Rogers to its management team. Rogers, a lawyer from Missouri, proved adept at protecting the company's leasing rights. Frequently, when a well was successful, many claimants emerged to contest the leases. Rogers assured continued success at McMan by consistently clearing all challenges.

In 1914 McMan continued to drill productive wells at Cushing and expanded to Bartlesville and Healdton. However, with the opening of new fields in Oklahoma combined with major new strikes in Texas and Kansas, the company faced a crisis. The oil market was glutted, and prices plummeted. The situation was dire at Cushing when the price of crude oil fell to seventy-five cents a barrel in mid-1914. McMan was able to withstand these conditions because McFarlin and Chapman were conservative in their approach; in 1914 the McMan Oil Company had no debt. They lowered production and began building storage facilities. By mid-1915 the price of crude oil, which had fallen to forty cents a barrel, began to rise, spurred by the increased demand created by World War I. The McMan Oil Company was the largest producer in Cushing and expanded into Texas and Kansas. In December 1915 the company's directors declared a one-million-dollar dividend from the excess profits for the year.

McMan's founders decided in 1916 to sell the company. The Magnolia Oil Company was largely a transportation firm, buying oil from producers. Magnolia had been a major purchaser from the McMan, and in 1916 the former was seeking to buy producing wells. The president of Magnolia finalized the deal to buy McMan in one phone call with Chapman and McFarlin, paying $39 million in cash and stock. The sale was finalized in December 1916. McFarlin and Chapman returned to the petroleum business in 1918, founding McMan Oil and Gas Company. They sold it to Standard Oil in 1930 for $20 million.

Another oilman, J. Paul Getty, best described the brief and exciting life of the McMan. He said that McMan was "one of the greatest successes ever known in the business of producing oil."

Carl N. Tyson


Kenny A. Franks, The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

Carl N. Tyson, James H. Thomas, and Odie B. Faulk, The McMan: The Lives of Robert M. McFarlin and James A. Chapman (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carl N. Tyson, “McMan Oil Company,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=MC036.

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