Fred Harvey

Date January 14, 2008 at 11:00 PM

Categories Culture

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At the age of 15, Fred Harvey left his native England for the United States. Upon his arrival in New York City, Mr. Harvey began working in the restaurant business in New York. The Civil War was bad for restaurants, but good for the railroads, and Mr. Harvey made a career change. Over the next 20 years, Mr. Harvey moved ever westward and ever higher in railroad business, but never forgot the restaurant business. Travelling for the railroads over the time reinforced Mr. Harvey's view that improvement was needed in the food department.

Upon arrival in Kansas in 1870, Mr. Harvey met Charlie Morse, President of the fledgling Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. For the next near century, Fred Harvey's company would bring good food at reasonable prices in clean, elegant restaurants, to the travelling public throughout the Southwest. They also brought civilizaton, community, and industry to the Wild West. Only 15 years later, there were 17 Harvey Houses; at their peak, there were 84.

The Fred Harvey Company grew until it had restaurants, hotels and lunchrooms throughout what we usually think of as the southwest

(California, Arizona, and New Mexico), but also Kansas (of course) Oklahoma, and Texas. Later, Harvey Houses appeared wherever the Santa Fe set major terminals including Chicago. In addition, the company established newsrooms and lunch counters at stations on Santa Fe owned subsidiaries. As the railroad business expanded during the latter part of the 19th Century, competition between the companies encouraged improvement to attract more riders. In the 1890's, the Santa Fe Rwy began including dining cars on some of its trains. This could have been a disaster for the Harvey Houses, but Mr. Harvey got the contract to serve food on the dining cars as well. (About this same time, George Pullman began building (and staffing) his own sleeping cars.

Mr. Harvey continued to improve his service until his death in 1901. He began hiring women at a time when most jobs for women were as domestics or teachers. His own experience with the men he had hired to work in his establishments were as wild as the west was. He advertised in the East for women to work for him. Paying as much as $17.50 per month with free room, board and clean uniforms, the Company prospered with these new helpers.

Mr. Harvey's sons took over the company in 1901, and operated it through the 1930's. When the last of them died, the company left Harvey control, and the company continued to operate, albeit at a slower, lower level.

After World War I, rising affluence, more automobiles, and more leisure time hurt the Harvey Company, but again they adapted and changed. While keeping many Harvey Houses, they moved away from full reliance on train passengers. They packaged motor trips of the southwest, including tours of Native American villages and such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon. They not only civilized the west, they also marketed the indigenous peoples and their arts and crafts. The Heard Museum in Phoenix has an online tour of their exhibit on this subject.

The business continued to decline slowly as air travel became possible, but the depression so slowed business and industry that fewer and fewer people traveled for any reason, by any means, let alone by train.

World War II proved a momentary reversal, as troop trains (with few if any amenities) needed meals for their passengers. Often with very short notice, (after all, troop movements during war are NOT found in the papers) the Harvey Houses again arose to the challenge.

By the 1950's though, the railroads, worn out by years of carrying war goods, were cutting back. Overseas, the Federal government (through the Marshall Plan) rebuilt the railroads of our former enemies. At home, the Federal government began massive subsidies to the automobile and airline industries in the form of highway and airport construction funds, but provided nothing for those unsung heroes of World War II, the railroads. Against this prosperity and apparent "free"€ transportation, the passenger trains began their decline. Most railroads were only too willing to use any excuse to eliminate passenger service. The Santa Fe was one of the holdouts, setting high standards all the way to Amtrak that other railroads could have copied. Even so, they too consolidated services, closed stations (and associated HH's), and eliminated trains.

The Company also began to focus more on resorts and national parks. By the early 1960's the Fred Harvey Company had moved out of Los Angeles Union Station, and began operating the Music Center Restaurant only a few blocks away.

In 1968, the Hawaii-based Amfac Corporation bought the Harvey Company, applying its high standards to Amfac's list of hotel and resort properties around the world. The Fred Harvey Company ceased to exist. Records, photographs, and other company paper held by the company for nearly a century were distributed to university libraries throughout the southwest. An new Amfac Division, the Fred Harvey Trading Company was set up as the retail division of Amfac Parks & Resorts. Amfac Parks & Resorts changed their name to Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2002.

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