Fred Harvey feeds the west
Fred Harvey civilized dining for Western travelers and provided hundreds of brides for Western ranchers.
Fred Harvey was born in London in 1835 and he emigrated to the United States when he was 15. Harvey ended up in New York City where he went to work in several different restaurants. He learned enough to eventually open his own restaurant in St. Louis, but the turmoil of the Civil War caused his new restaurant to fail.
So Fred Harvey started to work as railroad mail clerk, sorting the mail on a moving train. He eventually ended up as a salesman for a newspaper before becoming a railroad freight agent for the Chicago,Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Due to all the traveling for his job and the awful food served by the railroads, Harvey developed some ideas about fine dining for railway passengers.
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE
This railway was started in Topeka in 1868 by Cyrus K. Holliday. Despite the name it never went to Santa Fe. It was common for railways to exaggerate in their titles. Eventually it ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Nothing in the railway's history suggested it would one day be associated with fine dining, but in 1876 Fred Harvey and the railway joined forces.
EATING ON THE GO
These were the days before Pullman sleeping cars and dining cars. Instead, each railroad would set up depot restaurants and the trains would stop 3 times a day, at meal times, and all the passengers would pile into these restaurants. These weren't necessarily run by the railways, more likely they just leased the space. It was in their interest to serve customers cheap food and serve it quickly.
The passengers had about 20 minutes to eat, so there was little choice and they had to eat fast. To make it worse, sometimes you didn't even get your 20 minutes to eat the hastily cooked food, so you went hungry and the restaurant sold your uneaten food to the next customer. The restaurant didn't care, they were paid in advance by the passenger.
The awful food that had to be eaten fast lead to Harvey's stomach trouble and his idea.
Fred Harvey decided to open railroad restaurants in the depots that offered wholesome foot at reasonable prices and would treat the customers with dignity, not like animals at a feeding trough. He corrected assumed that he could make money from this idea. He first took this idea to the his employers at the Burlington line, but they were not interested.
So Harvey went to see Charles F. Morse, the manager of the Santa Fe line, who thought it was a great idea. The first Harvey Restaurant opened in the depot in Topeka, where it was an immediate hit. Traveling salesman quickly spread the word and Harvey soon opened up eating places in other Santa Fe railroad depots.
FRESH, WHOLESOME FOOD SERVED QUICKLY
The restaurants still served food very quickly but Harvey used precision and efficiency to deliver a hot meal very quickly. The train conductor would take orders on the train, long before they got to the depot. These orders he would wire ahead to the restaurant. Different waitresses had different functions at each table and everybody worked like clockwork. This enabled people to get a fast meal , but still a good one.
Fred Harvey made a point of serving fresh ingredients, taking advantage of the railroad's ability to deliver goods quickly. He would serve fish fresh from Illinois to patrons in the American West. The customers in Chicago could dine on fresh elk from the American West.
The next step for Harvey was opening up the first Harvey House in Topeka. This was a nice hotel near the depot that has a restaurant and bedrooms for overnight guests, all with Harvey's brand of hospitality. His hotels and restaurants began spreading across the West. The railroad paid for the land, buildings and equipment and Harvey was in complete charge of the running of the establishments. This included hiring some of the best chefs and the women who came to be known as Harvey Girls.
Fred Harvey's wife interviewed each prospective waitress, not looking at just her job skills but determining her morals, too. A Harvey waitress had to look wholesome and show good sense and intelligence. The restaurants were not just popular for the excellent food, lonely men in the West also looked on the dining halls as a marriage bureau. Fred Harvey proudly attended what weddings he could, there were thousands of them.
The legacy of the Harvey girls was put on film in the 1940's by George Sidney, starring Judy Garland in a popular movie. The song from the film, On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, won an Oscar in 1946.