Railroad restaurateur. Born: June 27, 1835, London, England. Died: February 9, 1901, Leavenworth, Kansas.
Fred Harvey was born June 27, 1835, in London, England, he began his career in the restaurant business in 1850 at the age of 15 when he arrived in New York as an English emigrant. Moving from one restaurant job to another, Harvey made his way to New Orleans and St. Louis. Harvey married Barbara Sarah Mattas on January 14, 1860. They had six children.
During the Civil War Harvey worked as a mobile mail clerk in the booming railroad business. He saw a clear need for a business that offered travelers good food and personal service. Harvey at first pitched the idea to his employer, the Burlington Railroad Company. Santa Fe Railway president Charles F. Morse shared Harvey's opinion on railroad food and agreed to let Harvey open a dining room in the Santa Fe Topeka train depot in 1876.
Harvey purchased the hotel in Florence in 1877 and added fine accommodations to his business services. The menus featured 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's all-male wait staffs were replaced with women or "Harvey girls" in 1883. they became renowned for good looks, fine manners, and efficiency. With their iconic black shirtwaist dresses, black bows, and perfectly starched white aprons and caps, they were immortalized in the 1946 MGM musical, The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland.
Seven years after opening his restaurant in Topeka, Harvey was operating a number of restaurants along Santa Fe's main line. by 1891 there were 15 Harvey House restaurants in operation. Harvey died February 9, 1901, in Leavenworth, Kansas. At that time his empire included 45 restaurants and 20 dining cars in 12 states. His sons and grandsons continued restaurant business after his death. The decline in railroad traffic and the mass production of automobiles and airplanes caused the business to slow. In 1968 Hawaii-based Amfac (now called Xanterra) Corporation bought the Fred Harvey Company. The Amfac hotels and resorts throughout the world adopted the Harvey quality standard.
If you don't behave like gentlemen, you can't stay here and you can't come again. Now put up your guns and take a drink with Fred Harvey!—Fred Harvey
View primary sources related to Fred Harvey in Kansas Memory
Entry: Harvey, Fred
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2010
Date Modified: February 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.