Arthur Valentine Biography
His last name is easy to remember. His company's logo was the red heart that symbolized the popular "Valentine's Day" holiday of the same name. But what do we really know of the man with the trademark hat and bowtie whose name is forever attached to Wichita's prefabricated diners?
Arthur Hoyt Valentine was born in Elliott, Illinois, on June 4, 1891, the son of Robert and Betty (Mathis) Valentine. Not much is known about his early years, at least until 1912 when he married Ella Creach in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. Ella (a native of Missouri) was 17; Arthur was 20. Their marriage lasted 42 years, but did not produce any children.
The Valentines came to Kansas in 1914, but it isn't clear what Arthur did for the better part of the 1910s and 1920s. His one sibling, sister Hallie Utterback, also came west and eventually settled in Kiowa, Kansas. Arthur was uncle to her eight daughters.
Valentine catalogs suggest that Arthur spent much of the 1920s operating lunchrooms in south central Kansas. His first lunchroom was at Hazelton (view image of interior), and others soon followed. He may have operated as many as 50 lunchrooms yet, paradoxically, he also was selling cars at Great Bend in 1928 (see image at center, left).
In the 1930s, many things came together to lead to the development of Valentine diners. Arthur had been operating his lunchrooms in buildings he'd purchased or leased from others, while at the same time Ablah Hotel Supply Company of Wichita was making prefabricated lunchroom buildings. In 1932 or 1933 Ablah made a lunchroom building for Arthur at Hutchinson (see image at bottom, right). It was around this time that Arthur began working for Ablah, becoming a salesman for their buildings; this arrangement existed for much of the 1930s.
Arthur appears to have been experimenting with different types of buildings for his lunchrooms, because in 1933 he also bought a "porcelain" lunchroom that the Martin Perry Company of New York made for Wichita's Metal Building Company (which had closed by the end of 1935).
At the end of the decade the Ablahs decided to pull out of the prefabricated building business and allowed Arthur to take it over. This probably happened in 1938, a date often cited in company literature as the beginning of Valentine diners. Arthur arranged with the Hayes Equipment Manufacturing Company to build his sandwich shops. It may be around this time that Arthur began experimenting with lunchroom design.
This arrangement was short-lived because material shortages brought on by World War II shut down both Valentine and Hayes. Arthur worked as an inspector for Boeing during the war. According to his niece, Laverne Jelinek, he was frustrated that the war had closed a promising business.
Shortly after the war ended, in late 1945, Arthur created Valentine Industries. Because the Hayes company had closed, he needed to find a new manufacturer for the diner buildings and turned to another Wichita firm. H & H Parts went into partnership with Valentine Industries. This partnership was brief, though, and in 1947 Arthur formed Valentine Manufacturing, Inc. For the first time, he held all the aspects of prefabricated diner construction under one company.
One characteristic of Arthur's personality is that he continually experimented with ideas to achieve business success. For example, he sold the Valentine diner building gutted, with only a few shelves, for use as a liquor store when Kansas repealed Prohibition in 1949. Restaurant fixtures were sold separately, as was a sandwich base mix.
Sadly, Arthur's health began to fail as Valentine diners became successful. By 1951 he was out of the business except as a consultant. He moved to a farm near Douglass, Kansas, where he spent the rest of his life. He kept his mind active and tried at least one more idea, a mower attachment designed to make cutting hay easier. He received a patent for it ten days before his death in Wichita on September 3, 1954.
Arthur's niece indicated that he always had his mind set on being his own boss, and incorporated this philosophy into the Valentine sales pitch. Catalogs reinforce the belief that Valentine "designed his first units with a two-fold goal in mind: First, that an individual could make a substantial living out of one unit. Second, that the individual could add more units to his chain through the years, if he so desired." The Valentine companies succeeded at both. While many were one- or two-person businesses, Valentine also made buildings for chains such as White Tower in the East, Spud Nut Donuts in the West, the Cavalier System in Texas, and Kings-X in Wichita.
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