Mansfield is on U.S. Highway 287 sixteen miles southeast of Fort Worth in southeastern Tarrant County and northeastern Johnson County. Walnut Creek runs through the town. Ralph S. Man, a South Carolinian, and Julian B. Feild from Virginia sold their sawmill and their water-powered gristmill in Fort Worth in 1857 and moved to the wheat-producing area in southeastern Tarrant County, where they built a sawmill and the first steam-powered gristmill in the county and perhaps in the state. The settlement that grew up around the mills was named for the two men; the original spelling of the town name was Mansfeild. Julian Feild, who owned and operated a general merchandise store in addition to the mills, became postmaster in 1860. The gristmill prospered and became widely known. During the Civil War, Feild, a captain in the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry, milled and delivered flour to the Confederate Army. After the war he received United States government contracts to supply flour and meal to Indian reservations and federal army outposts in West Texas (including forts Griffin, Concho, and Belknap), New Mexico, and Indian Territory.
The population of Mansfield grew to 400 by 1884. The town encouraged John Collier to establish a coeducational school, Mansfield Male and Female College, in 1869. The Mansfield Independent School District purchased the school grounds in 1909 and later made them the campus of a junior high school. The Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1890–91 described Mansfield as "prosperous." That year the community had 1,000 residents, four churches, two schools, two mills, a cotton gin, and numerous retail businesses. The town incorporated in 1909 and remained a hub for the surrounding farming region. Its population fluctuated from 627 in 1914 to 1,000 in 1927 and 635 in 1933. In 1949 the town had 1,200 residents and thirty-one businesses. In 1956 the school district became the first in Texas to receive a federal court order for racial integration, and the disturbance that followed received national attention (see MANSFIELD SCHOOL DESEGREGATION INCIDENT).
As the Dallas-Fort Worth area grew, the population of Mansfield increased from 1,375 in 1961 to 5,000 by 1974, when employees working in the larger neighboring cities transformed the town from a rural community into a modern suburb. Civic leaders promoted Mansfield and allowed graduate students from the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington to renovate the downtown area in the early 1970s. Mansfield also developed two 400-acre industrial parks, and the Carnation Company established a Mansfield can-manufacturing plant that became a major employer. By 1982 Mansfield reported 8,000 residents and 227 businesses. It had 10,733 residents and 267 businesses in 1988. In 1990 it had a population of 15,607 and had grown into Ellis County. The population grew to 28,031 by 2000.