Frederick Henry Harvey
Frederick Henry Harvey (June 27, 1835 – February 9, 1901) became known as “the Civilizer of the West” when the West was still wild. He is credited with creating the first restaurant chain and promoting tourism in the American Southwest in the late 1800s.
Fred Harvey immigrated to the United States from Liverpool, England in 1853 and found work in New York as a busboy at Smith and McNell’s restaurant. It was here that he learned the importance of quality service, fresh ingredients, and handshake treatment.
In 1856 he married Barbara Sarah Mattas, with whom he had six children.
He was the kind of immigrant who made America what it is today: innovative and prosperous.
As a freight forwarder in the 1870s, Fred Harvey spent time traveling by train in a pre-dining car era to experience firsthand the difficulty of finding good food.
Harvey Hotels and Restaurants
In 1876, Fred Harvey struck a deal with Charles Morse, the superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad when he opened restaurants along the railroad, and he was not charged rent. His first warehouse restaurant opened in Topeka, Kansas and two years later he opened his first hotel / restaurant in Florence, Kansas. The deal was sealed with just a handshake.
By 1891, 15 Harvey House restaurants were in operation and at their peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses catering to wealthy and middle-class visitors.
As a visionary innovator and marketer, Fred Harvey recognized a business opportunity.
Harvey House dining rooms, restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels serve train passengers on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, the Colorado Gulf and Santa Fe Railroad, the Kansas Pacific Railroad, the St Louis-San Francisco and the St. Louis Railroad Association terminal.
Over a period of 90 years, Harvey House employed more than 100,000 young women to work at Harvey Houses, located about 100 miles apart at train stations.
Fred Harvey’s diners provided a most enjoyable dining experience. They provided healthy food and service from an engaging staff to passengers on their cross-country train journeys. Railroad staff would notify the restaurant by telegraph, so each Harvey House of a train’s arrival time and how many people they would have to feed.
Fred Harvey also employed Native Americans to demonstrate carpet weaving, pottery, jewelry making, and other crafts at his Southwestern hotels.
During World War II, troop trains filled with starving soldiers served.
The Harvey girls were pioneers in the West in search of income and independence.
The 19th century was a time when working women were often looked down upon unless they were teachers or nurses other than the traditional ones, wife and mother.
Fred Harvey hired women between the ages of 18 and 30 with “good moral character” who worked six days a week and 12-hour shifts at the train station diners. They earned $ 25 a month plus room and board, allowing them to save or send money to their families.
Harvey’s girls resided in homes adjacent to restaurants and had a strict 10 p.m. curfew. A dorm supervisor routinely checked the bed, as Fred Harvey did not want his female staff to be confused with local prostitutes.
Harvey’s girls’ uniform consisted of a long black dress, a starched white apron, black stockings, and black shoes. This image was popularized in a 1946 film of the same name, The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland.
The Fred Harvey Company that operated the hotel and restaurant chain was continued by his sons and remained in the family until the death of a grandson in 1965.
Fred Harvey’s ham or cheese sandwiches with an extra slice of bread for 15 cents were famous throughout the West for their value.
Harvey’s last words to his sons before he died were, “Don’t cut the ham too thin, guys.”
Another reported account of his last words was “Cut the finest ham, guys.”