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Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 23, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 208 customer reviews

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A Note from Stephen Fried on Appetite for America

I first encountered Fred Harvey seventeen years ago in the lobby of El Tovar, the historic hotel just a few steps from the edge of the Grand Canyon. His moody portrait was hanging there, his anxious eyes seemingly scrutinizing everything, and I wondered who the hell he was.

A pamphlet in our room offered some insight, explaining that his company had been running the hotels, the restaurants, the gift shops at the canyon--even training the mules--since 1905. It also mentioned the amazing impact of his entrepreneurial vision. From the 1870s through the 1940s, Fred's revolutionary family business--which included restaurants, hotels, dining cars and stores from Chicago to Los Angeles along the Santa Fe railroad, and later along Rt. 66--had forever changed the way Americans ate, drank, cooked, traveled, and spent their leisure time.

Hotel pamphlets don't often change my life, but I was immediately struck by what sounded like a great American saga that needed to be told in more depth, perhaps in a magazine article. So I started searching for information about Fred, picking up the few academic books that mentioned him, his company, and his legendary waitresses, the Harvey Girls.

I learned that the Fred Harvey name had once been ubiquitous in America, as the company built the nation's first chain of restaurants, lunchrooms, hotels, bookstores--in fact, the first national chain of anything--and was heralded for its unusually high standards of customer service and employee loyalty. By the 1940s, Fred and the Harvey Girls were such a well-established part of Americana that they inspired both a best-selling novel and an Oscar-winning movie musical with Judy Garland. And they went on to inspire everything from the Howard Johnson's chain to McDonald's and Starbucks, and all the major national hotels (along with a robust community of Harvey memorabilia collectors.)

As I continued my research, I found myself caught up in the little-known Harvey family drama. I realized that much of what was attributed to Fred himself had actually been done by his equally brilliant but unsung son, Ford--who memorialized his father by turning him into a brand-name. I am a sucker for stories about father-son family businesses, having grown up in one myself (furniture).

Somehow I never got around to writing that article. But ten years later, I was having lunch with my editor at Bantam, and we started talking about the new breed of history books--like Seabiscuit and Devil in the White City--being written by contemporary journalists. I suddenly found myself regaling her with my fascination with Fred Harvey, insisting that the saga of his multigenerational family business had all the excitement, intrigue and narrative richness of this new genre of "history buffed" books. Writing it would also give me a window into an entire 75-year stretch of American history.

By the end of the lunch, we agreed I write a book on Fred. It was the best decision I ever made in my career; this has been the most challenging and rewarding book I've ever written.

The more I've learned about Fred, his family, his Harvey Girls, his business and his world, the more I understand about America. And, by reliving through them two Depressions and several major recessions, two world wars, two flu pandemics, the rise of trains, autos and planes, electric lights, telephones, radio and television, I am constantly reminded of this nation's courage and resiliency.

The very first person (besides my editors) to read the manuscript of this book told me Fred's story made him feel better about America. And I know exactly what he means.

May Fred be with you.

From Publishers Weekly

The British-born Fred Harvey and his name stood for American hospitality for many years. In an impressive, comprehensively researched tome, Fried tells the intertwined stories of the man, his family, his company, and America. After Harvey's mid-19th-century immigration, he tried various jobs in the Midwest before business instincts and ambitions merged with the Santa Fe Railroad's founding. As the railroad's growth aided rapid westward expansion, Harvey established the first chain restaurants, called Harvey House. Through Gilded Age economic bust and recovery and into the new century, his company's fortunes attached to such novel American developments as the automobile and national parks, especially the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, through innovations such as progressive employment practices, merchandising, and marketing, the company stayed strong beyond its founder's death. His family ensured that it remained private and profitable through the railroad's decline and into the Depression. From the battle of the Little Bighorn to the Manhattan Project, Fried makes such lively use of the many remarkable intersections between major American and company history that this volume, though hefty, meticulously detailed, and slightly hagiographic, has unusually broad potential. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553804375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553804379
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The problem I face in writing this review is that I don't have all the time and space it would take to do this incredibly well done, truly magnificent history the justice it deserves. Stephen Fried has written at least three histories in this single volume.

The nominal subject is a gentleman named Fred Harvey, a name that is little known among the general public today.

But Fred Harvey was very influential in shaping the development of the American West, the railroad industry (or at least part of it), creating branding and merchandising as we now know it , creating the then new habit of restaurant eating, expanding employment opportunities for women, preserving Native American culture and still more. His son carried on long after Fred Harvey died, but the Harvey empire crumbled with the modern era.

Which is really a pity. I grew up in the twilight of the Fred Harvey era. I still vaguely recall how special eating at the Fred Harvey restaurant at a local railroad terminal was and think I rode on one of the last trains where Fred Harvey's company provided the dining car service.

"Appetite for America" covers Fred Harvey's history. His first big day was the opening of a "eating house" for the Santa Fe, Atchison and Topeka Rail Road in Topeka, Kansas. Eating out, so to speak, was not an experience to be sought after. Places offering food were suspect for many good reasons and the victuals offered were usually mediocre on the best of days. But Fred Harvey changed that: eating at one of Fred Harvey's eating houses was virtually guaranteed a pleasant experience with tasty and nourishing food at reasonable prices.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book offers many different flavors to many different readers. It's a splendid business history of Fred Harvey - the firm of that name, not just the man who founded it, though his story is well-told here. The Fred Harvey hotel and restaurant chain, the reader will find, was the first such business model that Howard Johnson and other chains would follow - and Fred Harvey affected American cuisine as well, so readers interested in culinary history will also find this book of interest. There's more: Fred Harvey also affected American architecture and decor (e.g., the "Santa Fe" style), the growth and preservation of Grand Canyon, American attitudes on native American culture and people, and American popular culture in general. We learn how Fred Harvey would influence cinema and entertainment, from Walt Disney to the Judy Garland "Harvey Girls" film of 1945. We even learn how Fred Harvey adapted from railroad hotels to the Route 66 phenomenon and early commercial aviation as the motorcar and the airliner first appeared.

And, of course, the book has plenty for fans of railroad history. The Fred Harvey chain grew with, and helped grow, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The railroad's expansion, and decline in mid-20th Century America, shaped the Fred Harvey story as well. Its challenges from natural disasters, two world wars, flu epidemics, the demands of military mobilization -- even the Manhattan Project puts in an appearance -- show how the firm, the railroad, and American life affected each other.

The book is also a splendid family saga. The generations that followed Mr. Harvey would make for lively reading, both in Fred Harvey boardrooms and in their private lives.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Even though I grew up in the Southwest and had seen references to Fred Harvey since childhood, I never gave him or his company much thought until this book appeared on the "Vine" list here on amazon. Since I love the Southwest and the title seemed inviting, I decided to give it a shot. Am I ever glad I did. Appetite For America is a dynamic and splendid history, one of those inspirational rags to riches stories that has spurred millions through the years to make the best of opportunities given them. And though Fred Harvey is somewhat obscure today, in his own time he was the toast of the nation.
The book's storyline has already been recounted time and again in other reviews, so I will just make a few other comments. What's that old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men? Well, Fred Harvey was a very far-sighted and deliberate man and though he may have in his own mind set the groundwork for a hospitality empire that would serve Americans for the foreseeable future, eventually times changed and circumstances intervened. By the time the dashing but spoiled Freddy took the reins of the company, slacking ambition and internecine squabbles had blurred the single-minded vision with which Harvey and his son Ford had led the company to success after success. The Fred Harvey company faltered, rivals moved in, and Harvey empire's remnants were sold off with the company consigned to the dustbin of history. Harvey's business empire had lasted for just under a century, but what a ride it was! The reader may note that one of those rivals that came on strong during the Depression (Howard Johnson's) is now pretty much history itself.
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