Fifty years before Howard Johnson’s restaurants, Fred Harvey began the first restaurant chain in the United States. English born Harvey immigrated into United States at the age of 15. After ascending through several trades, and relocating from New York and other locations, Harvey settled into Kansas.

Traveling frequently by rail, Harvey was not satisfied with food and service available to passengers at road houses along the tracks. Believing he could do better, by providing quality service and using only fresh ingredients, Harvey House lunch rooms was founded. In 1873 three restaurants were established along the Kansas Pacific Railroad.

In 1876 Fred Harvey entered into a partnership with the Santa Fe Railroad and proceeded to open Harvey House lunch rooms, restaurants and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Harvey House’s expanded as railroad lines were laid west.

The Civilizer of the West

Fred Harvey recruited and hired single women 18-30 “of good character” from the East to work as waitresses in his restaurants. It is estimated that 5,000 women moved to the West to work as Harvey Girls; many married cowboys, miners and railroad workers. Judy Garland starred in the 1946 movie Harvey Girls.

During the 1930’s George Pullman introduced railroad sleeper cars, and the Fred Harvey Company expanded the popular Harvey House food and service in railroad dining cars. As automobile travel increased across America the Fred Harvey Company opened hotels and restaurants to accommodate tourists. The La Posada in Winslow Arizona and The La Fonda in Santa Fe New Mexico were formerly Fred Harvey hotels and restaurants.

  La Posada in Winslow, Arizona
La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Following World War ll the Fred Harvey Company packaged motor road trips into National Parks. Xanterra Parks and Resorts currently own the former Fred Harvey Company, and operate the retail Fred Harvey Trading Company in National Parks.


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