Fred Harvey Company

Fred Harvey Company

The origin of the Fred Harvey Company can be traced to the 1875 opening of two railroad eating houses located at Wallace, Kansas and Hugo, Colorado on the Kansas Pacific Railway. These cafés were opened by Fred Harvey, then a freight agent for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The café operation ended within a year, but Fred Harvey had been convinced of the potential profits from providing a high quality food and service at railroad eating houses. His longtime employer, the Burlington Railroad, declined his offer of establishing a system-wide eating house operation at all railroad meal stops, but the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway subsequently contracted with Harvey for several eating houses on an experimental basis. This led to the creation of the first restaurant chain ever.


Before the inclusion of dining cars in passenger trains became common practice, a rail passenger's only option for meal service in transit was to patronize one of the roadhouses often located near the railroad's water stops. Fare typically consisted of nothing more than rancid meat, cold beans, and week-old coffee. Such poor conditions understandably discouraged many Americans from making the journey westward.

The subsequent growth and development of the Fred Harvey Company was closely related to that of the Santa Fe Railway. Under the terms of an oral agreement, Harvey opened his first depot restaurant in Topeka, Kansas in January 1876. Railroad officials and passengers alike were impressed with Fred Harvey's strict standards for high quality food and first class service. As a result, the Santa Fe entered into subsequent contracts with Harvey wherein he was given a "blank check" to set up a series of "eating houses" along almost the entire route. At more prominent locations, these eating houses evolved into hotels, many of which survive today. By the late 1880s, there was a Fred Harvey dining facility located every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line.

The Santa Fe agreed to convey fresh meat and produce free-of-charge to any Harvey House via its own private line of refrigerator cars, the Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch, and in them food was shipped from every corner of the United States. The company maintained two dairy facilities (the largest of the two was situated in Las Vegas, New Mexico) to ensure a consistent and adequate supply of fresh milk. When dining cars began to appear on trains, Santa Fe contracted with the Fred Harvey Company to operate the food service on the diners, and all Santa Fe advertising proclaimed "Fred Harvey Meals all the Way."

Harvey's meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public; for instance, pies were cut into fourths, rather than sixths, which was the industry standard at the time. The Harvey Company and the railroad established a series of signals that allowed the dining room staff to make the necessary preparations to feed an entire train in just thirty minutes. Harvey Houses served their meals on fine China and Irish linens. Fred Harvey, a fastidious innkeeper, set high standards for efficiency and cleanliness in his establishments, personally inspecting them as often as possible. It was said that nothing escaped his notice, and he was even known to completely overturn a poorly-set table. Male customers were even required to wear a coat and tie in many of Harvey's dining rooms. Fulfilling their patriotic duty, the Harvey Houses served many a meal to GIs traveling on troop trains during World War II.

This mutually-beneficial relationship, characterized as one of the most successful and influential business partnerships in the early American West, endured until 1968.


In the Southwest, Fred Harvey hired architect Mary Colter to design influential landmark hotels in Santa Fe, and Gallup, New Mexico, Winslow, Arizona, and at the South Rim and the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the 1910s and 1920s. The rugged, landscape-integrated design principles of Colter's work influenced a generation of subsequent western American architecture through the U.S. National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps structures built in the Depression. Together, Harvey and Colter created an entire set of cultural images.

It has been suggested that the Harvey Houses originated the "blue-plate special," a daily low-priced complete meal served on a blue-patterned china plate; an 1892 Harvey menu mentions them, some thirty years before the term became widespread. In addition to the Santa Fe, the Harvey Company operated dining facilities for the Gulf Coast and Santa Fe Railway, the Kansas Pacific Railway, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.

The Santa Fe maintained and operated a fleet of three passenger ferry boats that connected the railroad with San Francisco by water. Ships traveled the eight miles between the San Francisco Ferry Terminal and the railroad's Point Richmond terminal across the Bay. The service was originally established as a continuation of the company's named passenger train runs such as the "Angel" and the "Saint". The larger two ships, the "San Pablo" and the "San Pedro", each featured a newsstand-lunch counter located on the main deck, and a dining room on the upper deck. Meals, sandwiches, sweet rolls, pastries, and coffee were served. Santa Fe discontinued ferry service in 1933 due to the effects of the Great Depression.

The "Harvey Girls"

In 1883, unhappy with the conduct of his rowdy male service staff (who often picked fights with the customers and arrived at work drunk—or not at all), Harvey implemented a policy of hiring only female waitresses. He sought out single, well-mannered, and educated ladies, and placed ads in newspapers throughout the east coast and midwest for "Young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent." The girls were paid USD $17.50 a month plus room, board, and tips to start, a generous income by the standards of the time.

The girls were subjected to a strict 10:00 p.m. curfew, administered by a senior Harvey Girl who assumed the role and responsibilities of house mother. The official starched black and white uniform (which was designed to diminish the female physique) consisted of a skirt that hung no more than eight inches off the floor, "Elsie" collars, opaque black stockings, and black shoes. The hair was restrained in a net and tied with a regulation white ribbon. Makeup of any sort was absolutely prohibited, as was chewing gum while on duty. "Harvey Girls" (as they soon came to be known) were required into a one-year employment contract, and forfeit half their base pay should they fail to complete the term of service. Marriage was the most common reason for a girl to terminate her employment.

In a mythology that has grown around the Harvey Houses, these female employees are said to have helped to "civilize the American Southwest." This legend found its highest expression in "The Harvey Girls", a 1942 novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams, and, more notably, the 1946 MGM musical which was inspired by it. The film starred Judy Garland, was directed by George Sidney, and introduced the Johnny Mercer song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."

Dining car service

Harvey initially balked at the suggestion that in-transit dining facilities be added to all Santa Fe trains operating west of Kansas City. Eventually, Harvey agreed to support the railroad in this endeavor, and the "California Limited" became the first of Santa Fe's name trains to feature Harvey Company meal service en route. Later trains, such as the vaunted "Super Chief", included dining cars (staffed by Fred Harvey Company personnel) as part of the standard passenger car complement right from the outset.

Noteworthy Fred Harvey Hotels

Of the eighty-four Fred Harvey facilities, some of the more notable include:
* "The Alvarado" — Albuquerque, New Mexico; closed in 1969
* "The Bisonte" — Hutchinson, Kansas; closed in 1946
* "The Casa del Desierto" — Barstow, California; closed in 1959. Refurbished 1999; operating as two museums and city offices.
* "Castañeda" — Las Vegas, New Mexico; closed in 1948, used in the film "Red Dawn"
* "El Garces" — Needles, California; closed in 1958. Undergoing restoration (2008).
* "El Navajo" — Gallup, New Mexico; closed in 1957.
* "El Ortiz" — Lamy, New Mexico; closed in 1938.
* "El Otero" — La Junta, Colorado; closed in 1948.
* "El Tovar" — Grand Canyon, Arizona; still in operation.
* "El Vaquero" — Dodge City, Kansas; closed in 1948.
* "The Havasu House" — Seligman, Arizona; closed in 1955. Demolished 2008.
* "The Escalante" — Ash Fork, Arizona; closed in 1948, demolished in the 1970s
* "The Fray Marcos" — Williams, Arizona; restored and reopened as a historic hotel and train depot for the Grand Canyon Railway
* "La Fonda" — Santa Fe, New Mexico; still in operation
* "Las Chavez" — Vaughn, New Mexico; closed in 1936
* "La Posada" — Winslow, Arizona; closed in 1957; restored and reopened as a historic hotel
* "The Sequoyah" — Syracuse, Kansas; closed in 1936

eparation from the Santa Fe Railway

Beginning in the 1930s, the Fred Harvey Company began expanding into other locations beyond the reach of the Santa Fe Railroad, and often away from rail passenger routes altogether. Restaurants were opened in such locations as the Chicago Union Station (the largest facility operated by Harvey), San Diego Union Station, the San Francisco Bus Terminal, and the Albuquerque International Airport; the last of these was established at the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal in 1939, and could accommodate nearly 300 diners.

From about 1959 until about 1975, the Fred Harvey organization operated a series of restaurants in the Illinois Tollway "Oases," a set of highway rest stops built on bridges over the tollway. The original Fred Harvey company, as well as the company's very close affiliation with the Santa Fe Railway lasted until 1968 when it was purchased by the Amfac Corporation of Hawaii. Amfac was renamed Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2002 [] [] . In 2006, Xanterra purchased the Grand Canyon Railway and its properties, including the Grand Canyon Hotel. It is perhaps fitting that, effectively, Fred Harvey now operates a Santa Fe train.



ee also

* Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
* Blue-plate special
* Dining aboard the "Super Chief"
* Passenger train service on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
* Van Noy Railway News and Hotel Company
* The Harvey House Cookbook

External links

* [ Harvey Girl Historical Society]
* [ A Harvey House home page]
* [ Fred Harvey Collection - University of Arizona]
* [ La Posada - Winslow, Arizona]
* [ Friends of the Fred Harvey Company (wiki)]

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