Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls

Fred Harvey
Born in England 1835, Fred Harvey immigrated to the United States in 1850 at the age of 15. His first job was washing dishes in New York City. Soon after he moved to New Orleans and again gained employment in a restaurant, learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business. In 1853 he moved to St. Louis and six years later, he and a business partner opened a restaurant at the start of the Civil War. Unfortunately, his partner joined the war and not too long after, Harvey was broke for lack of customers. Harvey gained employment working on a riverboat and as a mail clerk for the railroad. It was during this time that he noticed trains did not provide dining cars, especially on long journeys, and the few eateries along the train route were deplorable. He concocted an idea to build a chain of restaurants along the AT&SF train route, but his idea was denied by his supervisor. A spur-of-the-moment meeting the AT&SF owner and gourmet, Charles Morse changed that. Morse liked Harvey’s idea and the first Harvey House restaurant opened in Topeka, Kansas in 1876.
Dining Room, Topeka, KS
Harvey leased a lunch counter at the Santa Fe Topeka depot. His focal points for running the counter were cleanliness, good food and reasonable prices. He was an immediate success, catching the attention of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line. They turned their food service over to Harvey and The Harvey Houses became the first chain of restaurants in the United States, with Harvey using the depot in Topeka as a training base. Harvey bought a hotel in Florence in 1877 and created an upscale establishment, featuring juicy steaks and crisp hash browns. Tables were set with imported linens, silver and china. He required male patrons to wear a jacket and always kept a supply of alpaca coats on hand for those who didn’t have one, ensuring no one was turned away. Eventually, Harvey extended his restaurants all the way to California.
Harvey Girls
Originally, Harvey hired males to work in his establishments. He soon found that many of them were as wild as the west and came up with another idea to hire women. He recruited women in newspaper ads, requiring them to have an 8th grade education, be of good manners and moral, and have a cleanly appearance. He paid them a good wage, with free room and board, and upon hiring a girl, he offered her the establishment of her choice along the train route. The girls were outfitted in black shirtwaist dresses, black bows and starched white aprons. In exchange for this, the girls had to agree to six months of employment, that they wouldn’t marry, and that they would obey company rules. With little opportunity for women in this era, the position as a Harvey Girl rose to popularity instantly. 
Harvey House Santa Fe (La Fonda)
Harvey’s success didn’t stop with his chain of restaurants. In the southwest, he hired architect Mary Colter to design hotels in Santa Fe (La Fonda) and Gallop New Mexico and in Winslow, Arizona, and at the south rim and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At the peak of the Harvey Houses, there were 84 restaurants in operation. Harvey continued to improve his businesses before he passed away in 1901. His sons and grandsons took over and kept the company profitable as long as possible. The inventions of cars and airplanes made that difficult, as most folks no longer traveled by train. The company was bought out by Hawaiian based Amfac in 1968. Amfac has hotels worldwide and adopted Harvey’s strategy for business and his standards. 

PS: If you ever get the chance, spend the night at La Fonda. I have and it's beautiful.
Inside La Fonda

No comments: