steampunk business fred harvey company

Monday, May 3, 2010

Steampunk Business: The Fred Harvey Company and “Harvey Girls”

One of the keys of the Victorian / Steampunk era is the advent of new business and business processes.  Usually, managerial philosophies are not the highlight of any discussions of the era, but a radio snippet caught my ear the other day.  During the rail expansion in the United States, obtaining a meal was a challenge, and a good meal was practically impossible.  As Stephen Fried quoted in his book, “Appetite for America”…

Before (Fred) Harvey, food available for train travelers was subpar at best, and Harvey had suffered “culinary indignities” along the rail lines himself.
“The food was awful,” Fried tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “And what they would often do is they would serve it to you so late that by the time you sat down, it was time to get back on the train.”
He adds, “They would actually scrape the food off the plate and serve it to the next person who came in and got tricked the same way.”

Business Entrepreneur Fred Harvey

Not too appetizing, but the British entrepreneur Fred Harvey introduced a new business model in the 1880, with an emphasis on quality and service… and introduced a novel concept – introducing women to civilize the American west!

“Harvey Girls”, as they were called, were ladies to took the duties as cooks and waitresses in the “Harvey Houses” stationed along the many rail stops in the American west.  Not only did they work as waitresses, they prepared meals for train customers which “rivaled those in the best restaurants in Europe”.  Though it was an opportunity for ladies to make a living away from their families, the restrictions imposed upon them would be considered onerous by today’s standards (e.g. wool neck-to-ankle dress while working… even in Arizona and New Mexico, strict living arrangements, including a 10pm curfew).

Harvey Girls in Texas, 1902

The story of the Fred Harvey company and Harvey Girls spanned from the 1880’s up through the late 1960’s, changing with the time, until it was eventually sold via a business acquisition.  To this day, Harvey Girls and the   Fred Harvey company may not be well known, but were iconic from the time, using business practices which only during the past few decades have become desirable business goals (if not always reached).

For more information about the Fred Harvey Corporation and Harvey Girls, please visit…

The NPR article with audio narration and an excerpt from “Appetite for America”, at:

Harvey Girl Wikipedia entry, at :

The Harvey Girl Historical Society, at:

and if you happen to be very ambitious, a 73 page “preview” of “The Harvey Girls” is on Google Books!



Breezy Carver

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Steam Spectre

Thanks again for another great post!

Rhianon Jameson

In one of lifes little coincidences, shortly after reading your post on Fred Harvey, my typist received the most recent issue of the Univ. of Pennsylvania alumni magazine, featuring an article on a book about none other than Fred Harvey.

The article is available at .


but nobody notes the movie The Harvey Girls, with Judy Garland. Thats how I knew about this bit of history. Thanks MGM!