Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series.
Who was Fred Harvey? So asks Stephen Fried in the prologue of his wonderful new book, "Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West."
Harvey, an Englishman who came to the United States as a youngster in the 1850s, started a revolutionary business in the 1870s feeding passengers along the nation's largest railroad, the Santa Fe, between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Harvey created the first restaurant chain in the U.S. His family-owned business (named simply Fred Harvey) was amazingly successful due to the entrepreneur's innovations and marketing skills. The business survived his death in 1901, extending through three generations of Harveys, until well into the 1960s, when railroad passenger business dropped off sharply.
Fried notes in his book: "At its peak (in the late 1920s), Fred Harvey had over 65 restaurants and lunch counters, 60 dining cars, a dozen large hotels, all the restaurants and retail shops in five of the nation's largest railroad stations, and so many newsstands and bookshops that its publication orders regularly affected national best-seller lists."
The restaurants and hotels became known as Harvey Houses and operated in dozens of towns, averaging one every 100 miles of railroad track.
Harvey set incredibly high standards for food services in the early days of the "wild West." He offered an elaborate menu featuring a variety of items that (if required) were transported down the line in ice-box train cars.
He provided sumptuous meals, hired the best chefs and used fine china, Irish linens and first-class silverware imprinted with the words "Fred Harvey."
Harvey was a fastidious innkeeper and a stickler for cleanliness who personally inspected his establishments as often as possible. His services were efficient: He had to feed an entire trainload of passengers in just 30 minutes.
Dining efficiency and civility were greatly enhanced by Harvey's famous waitresses, known as "Harvey Girls." Harvey sought out single, well-mannered, educated and attractive women aged 18 to 30. He signed them to six-month renewable contracts and provided room, board and transportation.
Fred Harvey and its Santa Fe Railroad partners promoted tourism. They encouraged travelers to visit national parks and scenic byways close to the main rail line by offering special "detours." One such trip was to Arizona's Meteor Crater, from the Winslow station.
Starting in 1904, the Fred Harvey company partnered with the Detroit Publishing Co. to publish and distribute postcards colorfully depicting the scenic and historic sites of the Southwest.
Promoter of Indian arts
Harvey was "the most important driving force in the early appreciation and preservation of Native American arts and culture," Fried writes. The company hired American Indians to demonstrate their crafts at New Mexico and Arizona railroad stops and hotels, and provided "Indian Detours" by auto to Santa Fe and Indian villages.
In reading Fried's book, and in conducting research for this column, I came to better appreciate Harvey's particular influence in Arizona. The railroad track ran across Northern Arizona. (Today you can follow the still active track along I-40 and remnants of the famous Route 66.)
By 1901, Fred Harvey provided "hospitality" services at five stops along the main railroad line in Arizona: Williams (1887), Winslow (1887), Ash Fork (1895), Seligman (1895) and Kingman (1901). All five stops served lunch and dinner and had newsstands.
Only Winslow would have a hotel, the famous La Posada, built in 1930, closed in 1957, and restored and reopened in 1997.
For a brief period (1947- 1949), a sixth Fred Harvey eating establishment along the Arizona main line operated at the Painted Desert Inn, which reopened in 1963 as Painted Desert Oasis. It was restored in 2000, adding a museum.
Fred Harvey also operated two dairy farms in Arizona - Peach Springs (1884) and Del Rio (1898) - to provide fresh milk for passengers.
Toward the end of the 19th century, increasing passenger demand caused the Santa Fe Railroad to build two spurs off the main transcontinental track in Arizona, one to Phoenix and the other to the Grand Canyon.
Fred Harvey only provided a newsstand at the Phoenix terminal (1896), but the company had bigger plans for the Grand Canyon.
Beginning of an era
In 1905, Fred Harvey opened El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The company followed up with Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon (1925) and Bright Angel Lodge, also on the South Rim (1935).
By 1936, this hospitality complex would become Harvey's biggest moneymaker. The facilities remain open today, under the management of a company named Xanterra (which manages food and lodging for many Western national parks).
Fred Harvey was heavily into the design and decoration of its many hotels. Starting in 1902, the famed architect Mary Colter worked for Fred Harvey for more than 40 years.
Colter "incorporated local materials and Indian motifs" into her buildings, according to Fried. She was responsible for designing and decorating famous Arizona icons such as El Tovar Hotel (decorating only), Hopi House, Hermit's Rest, Observatory Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch, Desert View Watchtower and Bright Angel Lodge, and Winslow's La Posada Hotel.
Besides the hotels at the Grand Canyon and Winslow, Fred Harvey left Arizona a fantastic legacy of artwork. When the company dissolved in the late 1960s, the Harvey family trust donated more than 4,000 pieces of American Indian art to the Heard Museum in Phoenix.
Harvey's granddaughter, Kitty, donated most of her personal Western art collection, along with some personal photos, to the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Other Harvey memorabilia are located in Arizona museums. Photographs, correspondence and miscellaneous records, including dining-car menus, are preserved at the University of Arizona, Special Collections.
The Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler includes in its displays a Harvey Girl uniform. The Arizona State Railroad Museum - a $25 million, 106,500-square-foot facility under construction in Williams - will open in 2012 to display all sorts of Arizona railroad history, including that of Fred Harvey.
Next week: Read more about the Harvey Girls.
E-mail Bob Ring at email@example.com or view his website, ringbrothershistory.com