Updated: Apr 7, 2019
Fred Harvey, father of the first restaurant franchise, issued simple swizzle sticks with a paddle on one side and a point on the end marked “Fred Harvey”. Most were black with gold lettering and blank on the back. How did Fred Harvey build his brand using imagery of purity in the female form? Did women, as Fred said, truly "civilize the west"? And how did his swizzle stick tell the story?
The swizzle sticks (which have been seen in Black, Blue, Red, Yellow and Clear) are in the patented shape designed by the Spir-It company in 1934. Many appear very new (as the Fred Harvey restarant and brand still exisit) and others have a lot of wear on them and date back to the 1940's. I didn’t know much about them. They were an unremarkable part of my collection…until…
I noticed that one was different. It was not blank on the other side. Instead it had a figure, a golden angel. I was intrigued, like finding a prize. She appeared to be hand drawn and I wondered if it was a “one-of” or had been made for a special occasion. I had no information but I kept it in a special place.
But there the trail grew cold.
It would be a while before I thought about the Fred Harvey sticks again.
THE INDIAN CHIEF: A friend of mine recently asked me if I had any railroad swizzle sticks in my collection. I knew I had a few Amtrak sticks but not a separate section. Airlines? Yes. Railroads? Not so many. Why would anyone even make a swizzle stick for a train? In my search, I became distracted (an occupational hazard for a swizzle stick collector) and opened a box I had marked “Western Theme”. Here I had many Indian Chief Sticks as well as covered wagons, horses and cowboys.
As any good researcher would, I read the names printed on the sticks and discovered that one of the Indian Chiefs was marked “Santa Fe – The CHIEF Way”. Before long I looked up the Santa Fe railroad line and found myself captivated by memorabilia for this famous train line.
Among those, an advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post which answered not one but two of my questions. The slogan “Gee, that’s Eatin’” explained why there would be a swizzle stick on a train…a dining car.
And there it was, at the bottom of the advertisement, the answer to my mystery: “Fred Harvey”.
As I read about the Harvey meal on a Santa Fe diner, I found the answer to my second mystery: “The Fred Harvey Company operated their chain of ‘eating houses’ hosted by Harvey Girls along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad between 1876 and 1968.”
Harvey Girls: Fred Harvey wasn’t the first, or the last businessmen to use women as part of his brand. But while most old marketing adage “sex sells” may hold true for most, Fred opted for an image of women who symbolized purity.
The whole idea of women as both a brand and a device to somehow tame the Wild West may baffle us now, but at the time, the image of a waitress in white uniform that Fred fashioned drove his restaurant brand to great success. In fact, she, “The Harvey Girl” became the restaurant brand.
Fred Harvey placed newspaper ads, asking for women who were single, white and between the ages of 18 and 30. They had to be of good moral character, well-mannered, attractive, and intelligent with at least an 8th grade education.
Editorial note: such a racist, sexist and ageist ad would never be published today, but the wording serves as a document of the mind-set of the time.
Hundreds of thousands of women left behind their homes and poverty between the 1880’s and 1960’s to work for the Harvey House restaurants. The “girls” signed yearlong contracts and lived next to or in the Harvey Houses, under the close supervision of a Harvey Girl with the longest tenure. If they left before the year was up—the most common reason for doing so was marriage—they forfeited a portion of their base pay. These women were true pioneers, traveling west into the unknown. They worked outside of the home at a time when few women did so. He opened his first restaurant along the rail line in Leavenworth, Kansas. He was able to contract with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe line, which spanned from New York to New Mexico. Mr. Harvey wanted travelers to eat well. He is credited with providing good, wholesome food in a hurry. He knew passengers had 30 minutes to get off the train, eat, and get back on the train. The key to success? The railroad workers stayed in touch with the restaurant via the telegraph, so each Harvey House knew if a train was going to be late and approximately how many hungry people they would have to feed. During World War II, they served troop trains, often filling every nook and cranny with hungry soldiers.
Fred Harvey is credited with creating the first restaurant chain, and he did it with the Harvey Girls. The uniform consisted of a long black dress (no more than 8 inches above the floor) overlaid with a starched white apron, black opaque stockings and black shoes.
Harvey girls became iconic with the 1946 release of the MGM movie starring Judy Garland called “The Harvey Girls”.
Do you recognize her? My golden angel turned out to be a Harvey Girl.
The vaunted Santa Fe line Super Chief train included dining cars (staffed by Fred Harvey Company personnel) as part of the standard passenger car complement right from the outset.
Thus the mystery of the Indian Chief and the Golden Angel were both part of the same story.
Want to know more?
Read “The Harvey Girls: Women who opened the West”
Visit the Fred Harvey Museum Website at: http://harveygirls.tripod.com/
Join the Harvey Girl Historical Society