Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fred Harvey: Rise & Fall of a Pioneering Brand

What does a corporate historian do for summer reading? Mine included Stephen Fried's fascinating business history Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West--One Meal at a Time. (The subtitle is a bit overstated. There were native civilizations in the west for millennia; they just weren't WASPs like British immigrant Fred.) It was named one of the 10 best books of 2010 by both The Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Inquirer, yet it might well be difficult for such a book even to find a mainstream publisher today. The level of detail is exhaustive.

The hospitality company that bore Fred Harvey's name really did pioneer "the chaining of America" well before Howard Johnson, McDonald's Ray Kroc, and all the other chains that now proliferate. The company is best remembered for its female employees, fictionalized in a novel and an MGM musical with Judy Garland. I enjoyed learning about them via Leslie Poling-Kempes's The Harvey Girls: The Women Who Opened the West (1989), a narrative built around oral histories done in the 1980s. I'm looking forward to downloading a one-hour Harvey Girls video by Assertion Films (2014), cover shown above.

How sad that the Fred Harvey Company never produced a corporate history. Nor did the execs or heirs invest in proper archiving. Chunks and bits of Harvey history are scattered across histories of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, physical locations, and numerous websites. Too many of the latter yield "Page Not Found" error messages -- including, inexcusably, that of Xanterra, the conglomerate that now owns the Harvey name and the historic Grand Canyon South Rim holdings. There's a nod to Harvey on Xanterra's one-paragraph About Us page, but that's all. What a wasted opportunity! Commandment 3 of's 10 Commandments of About Us Pages: Reveal Thy Personality.