April 16, 2017

Who is Fred Harvey? Joyce Ann Brown of Kansas Tells Us.

Fredrick Henry Harvey was born on June 27th, 1835 in London, England.  Harvey moved to New York City in 1853 to start a new life.  He worked as a pot scrubber and busboy at Smith and McNell's Restaurant. He eventually moved up to a waiter and finally a line cook.  He learned the restaurant business inside and out.  He also worked as a freight agent, traveling throughout the Great Plains.  He traveled on trains, as most people did at that time.  Everyone had to bring their own food when they traveled by train because if you were even lucky enough to find some food available somewhere, the quality was extremely poor.  Having lived with this problem for far too long, Fred Harvey made an agreement with the Santa Fe railroad in 1876 to open an eatery in Topeka, Kansas.  Travelers were very happy to eat in a clean room with very well prepared meals.  It became so popular that Harvey eventually opened 47 Harvey House eateries, 30 Dining cars and 15 Hotels.  There was a Fred Harvey eatery every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line.  Fred Harvey died in Leavenworth, Kansas, February 9, 1901.
Come to The Fred Harvey Museum to learn more about his exciting life.

Harvey Houses 
The Fred Harvey Company had many operations from 1875 to 1970. There is a list of the Harvey eating establishments that we believe employed Harvey Girls in the museum.

The Fred Harvey Company employed male waiters up until 1883. Many waiters came in late and hung over and fought during working hours.  Having witnessed such bad behavior, Fred Harvey reportedly fired his entire staff of waiters in 1883 in Raton, New Mexico.  

From 1883 on, Fred Harvey only employed women as waitresses.  He called them Harvey Girls.  He put ads in newspapers across the East Coast and Midwest saying: "White, young women, 18 - 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent. $17.50 a month plus room, board, gratuity and transportation." That was a good wage at the time.

Come visit The Fred Harvey Museum for more information about The Harvey Girls.

In the early 1870s traveling by train was common method of transportation. Many Americans bundled onto the trains, heading out west. Along the way they would often become hungry. At that time if you wished to eat you had to wait for the train to stop then had exactly one hour to find a restaurant, order your food, and eat. Many passengers failed to make the time limit and were left stranded at the train station. Even those who succeeded found the fare available at the train stops less than appetizing. Fred Harvey, a young entrepreneur working for the railroad, noticed this lack in decent food and wanted to offer good food to travelers. He pitched the idea to Burlington Railroad Company originally, but was turned down. Next he presented the idea to Santa Fe Railway president Charles F. Morse who loved it. In 1876 Harvey opened a dining room in the Santa Fe Topeka train depot.

Soon Harvey House restaurants spread up and down the line, providing fine dining to railway costumers. By the early 1880s Harvey was operating 17 restaurants along Santa Fe's main line and by 1891 he had 15 Harvey House restaurants in operation. Harvey believed in giving perfect service, complete with linen and silverware, excellent food, and reasonable prices. In 1877 Harvey decided to open his first hotel and purchased a hotel in Peabody, adding fine accommodations. In 1881, noticing that the all male staff was often given trouble while trying to serve Harvey decided to replace them with the "Harvey girls." These were young women of good character and morals who would contract for a year’s service. They became known for their good looks, fine manners, and efficiency.

Harvey House establishments provided a clean, safe place to relax and enjoy a good meal in a polished and sophisticated surrounding. Where beans and biscuits had been the norm, diners could dine on thick, juicy steaks and hot, crispy hash browns. Meals were served on tables outfitted with imported linens, silver table service, and fine china, many personalized with the Fred Harvey name. To add to the sense of gentility, Harvey mandated that all men in the dining room must wear coats. To make sure that no one would be turned away, a supply of dark alpaca coats was always kept on hand.

Harvey girls wore the iconic black shirtwaist dress and perfectly starched white apron and cap. Thanks to the 1946 MGM musical The Harvey Girls (featuring Judy Garland), these young women were immortalized as a part of American railroad history.

When Harvey died in 1901, his empire included 45 restaurants and 20 dining cars in 12 states. Harvey’s sons and grandsons continued to run the restaurant business. The largest challenge they faced was the decline in railroad traffic and the mass production of automobiles and airplanes. Since the Harvey House restaurants were located on the rail lines, their business slowed. However the Fred Harvey Company expanded to meet this new demand, offering restaurants along many scenic highways, so as to catch the automobile traffic.
In 1968 the Hawaii-based Amfac (now called Xanterra) Corporation bought the Fred Harvey Company. The Amfac hotels and resorts throughout the world proudly adopted the Harvey quality standard.
Harvey House Roll Call - website listing Harvey House employees in New Mexico

When English immigrant Fred Harvey opened the first of more than 80 restaurants serving rail stops from the Midwest to California, he could not have imagined the contribution he was making to a social movement that would outlive the restaurants themselves. Nor could he have understood how those restaurants would influence the character of the West.

But Harvey waitresses — made famous by the 1946 Judy Garland movie “The Harvey Girls” — contributed more than labor to what some call the first restaurant chain in America. They helped gentrify the West and took part in a movement of young women away from the home and into self-sufficient employment.
“The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound” — a terrific documentary by L.A. filmmaker Katrina Parks — tells the story of the women who worked as wait staff for Harvey House restaurants, including the one at Union Station, beginning in the 1870s.

Unlike other diners near rail, Harvey House restaurants were clean and sold good, reasonably priced food on table linen and china. For 75 cents (in a 1943 menu) customers could dine on broiled fish almandine, potatoes O’Brien and Hawaiian slaw. A slice of apple pie was 15 cents. And the restaurants guaranteed that patrons would complete their meals before their trains — often loading up on water and passengers — were scheduled to depart.

At first, the Harvey company hired men to serve as waiters, since women were in short supply in the West. But the men — both customers and waiters — could be rowdy. So Harvey began advertising in Eastern and Midwest newspapers, offering employment to clean-cut, well-mannered and attractive women between 18 and 30. The pay was $17.50 a month plus tips. Room and board were free. The Harvey Girls wore distinctive black-and-white uniforms, worked long hours and had to abide by strict rules, including curfews. But for many, it was the first taste of freedom and freedom can be delicious, as the above clip suggests.

In addition, the film explores the life of Fred Harvey  and his company which left its mark by not only providing work opportunities for women, but by being among the first companies to promote cultural diversity in the workplace by hiring Hispanic and Native American women to be waitresses along with their Anglo peers. The Harvey Girls, whose workforce continued to flourish until the 1960s, were true pioneers and set a new standard of excellence for women in the workplace, paving the way for generations of independent young women to come.  This is their story!

Joyce Ann Brown owns rental properties in Kansas City with her husband. Her Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries happen in rental properties. However, none of her tenants has been involved in theft, kidnapping, or murder, and her two cats, Moose and Chloe, are cuddly, not psycho.
Besides being a landlady, Joyce has worked as a story teller, a library media specialist, a Realtor, and a freelance writer. Her writing appears in local and national publications.
Catch a glimpse of Joyce Ann’s writing about all cozy subjects on her Cozy Mystery Journey Blog. Read about trails she walks in Kansas City on Hiking K.C. Trails.

Visit Joyce Ann Brown here: http://www.joyceannbrown.com and everyone who visits gets a free Ebook-directions on her site for that.
Please leave a comment for a chance to win your choice of one of Joyce Ann Brown's  e-books or her audio book.

(Info Provided by Author)


  1. What an interesting but different blog post today, Joyce. I did know about the Harvey House story from a visit to the Grand Canyon several years ago when we had a meal in a Harvey House and read about his story. Thanks for the reminder of what was a very happy experience. Your life sounds very varied and interesting as well.
    Linda Swift LSwiftR@aol.com

  2. Very interesting! Happy Easter!

  3. I don't normally step in to comment because--well, I get to read it all ahead of time!! BUT-I thought the Harvey Girls were part of the Grand Canyon too...And I've been to the Grand Canyon 3 times so far. They have a whole room dedicated to the Harvey Girls.

  4. Haven't heard about the Harvey Girls in such a long time, I'd totally forgotten about them. Interesting story. Interesting history. My only experience with Kansas is having lived there for a year when I was 21 (Emporia, Kansas). Because of that experience, I've set my next book in Topeka, Kansas. I remember the Judy Garland movie.

  5. Yes, Linda and Annette, the Harvey House restaurants and hotels eventually spread from Chicago to L.A., but they started in Kansas. Fred Harvey settled with his family in Atchison, Kansas.

    Linda, it'll be fun to see a mystery set in Topeka.

  6. Fascinating, Joyce! Thanks for introducing me to Frank Harvey and the Harvey Girls!


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