Updated October 10, 2005
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 and Saint Louis. 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.
Harvey partner Byron Schermerhorn later became president of Brink's Inc.
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.
Uniforms worn by Harvey waitresses.
Photo courtesy of Cline Collection, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ
Mr. Harvey's sons Byron S. (named for FH's partner and friend Byron Schermerhorn) and Ford 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 (Indian Detours) 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 roads improved and 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 apparently "free" transportation, 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.
Again the Company adapted to changing conditions. The Company also began to focus more on free-standing restaurants, 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 (at right) 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. A new Amfac Division, the Fred Harvey Trading Company was set up as the retail division of Amfac Parks & Resorts. In 1988, Denver-based JMB Realty purchased Amfac In 2002, Amfac changed their name to Xanterra Parks & Resorts®.
One purpose for this website is to continue the memory of the Harvey Company. Perhaps those HH's remaining can be recycled and reused to perpetuate the man, his company, and his employees, who civilized the west!