Who Was Fred Harvey?

Fred Harvey.jpg

Fred Harvey: 1835 – 1901

If you have spent any time browsing  Cherokee Blue Trading Post articles, you will often see the term “Fred Harvey era.

I consider there to be three distinct periods in the Fred Harvey era of dating jewelry and other Native American art objects. Others may have their own breakdown of these time periods:

Early Fred Harvey era: Late 1800s – 1910s [rare]

Mid Fred Harvey era:

1910s – 1930s

Late Fred Harvey era:

1940s – 1970s


Who was “Fred Harvey” and why was he so important to Native American arts and culture?

Fred Harvey [ 1835 – 1901] was a prominent 19th century Native American curios entrepreneur, business man, hotel restauranteur who fairly singlehandedly established the emerging 20th century American tourist fascination with traveling to the great American southwest and exploring the culture of Native Americans and their legacy of Native arts, jewelr,y and crafts.

It All Began With Bad Food on Train Trips

The whole success of Fred Harvey began with the fact that early train travel in America lacked a dining car – and the quality of food which could be had along the route of a lengthy journey from the east coast to the American southwest might include nothing more than stale bread, day old coffee, cold beans and rancid meat. The menu was hardly appealing enough to entice the genteel among American high society to desire a three-day journey out west to see the great American landscapes. Enter the entrepreneurial insight of Mr. Fred Harvey.

The Great American Southwest Travel Dream Team

Harvey entered into an ingenious contract with the Santa Fe Railroad to provide a series of luxurious new “eating houses” along the new rail routes which were quickly crisscrossing the American southwest.

He eventually established an entire chain of renown hotel and dining establishments across the American southwest including New Mexico, California and Arizona called the Harvey House chain, with a different hotel and dining house located every 100 miles along the Santa Fe Railroad. These stops also included fascinating new “Native American curio shops” founded by Harvey and his wife, where traditional Native American jewelry, pottery, rugs, memorabilia, and artifacts were sold to affluent train passengers, who browsed the shops during frequent rail stops for meals and overnight stays. Harvey would have a “captive audience” for the selling of these wares, almost none of which had ever been exposed to Native American culture before one of these rail journeys introduced them to the original inhabitants of the American southwest and their indigenous art. Word of mouth about these fascinating new rail trips carried back east resulted in a new explosion of interest in southwest tourism during the late 1800s through the early 1930s.

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Jam-packed interior of one of the early Fred Harvey trading posts showing an array of woven baskets, pueblo pottery, rugs, wall hangings and artifacts. Two Native American women stand by.

Changing the Image of Travel through the Great American Southwest

Prior to the times of Fred Harvey many people considered traveling to the “wild west” as a highly suspect venture, fraught with real risk.  It was also well known that the food was poor along the way, and this did little to encourage travel by rail. Harvey began promoting travel to the southwest via the Santa Fe Railroad with romanticized images of Native American scenes on large colorful posters which extolled intriguing sounding locales, creating a sense of romantic adventure with such travel. His was a unique marketing genius which introduced the American public to Native American life, culture, arts, jewelry, basket-making, rugs, and rare pottery.


Historic postcard shows the location of Fred Harvey “eating houses” from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles across the very spine of the American southwest.

Harvey promoted his new “Harvey Houses”  – as they were called, with large colorful and romanticized travel posters which held great appeal for those who were looking for new adventure. The travel hunger of affluent Victorian era Americans to visit the southwest was re-ignited by Harvey’s unique promotions.

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Fred Harvey’s daughters arrayed in their food service attire, ready to serve travelers crossing the Great American Southwest by train.

Harvey was working methodically to change the old dangerous 19th century image of America’s western vistas into a more modern and alluring concept – the idea that travel to the American southwest could be luxurious, exciting and adventurous, even exotic. And he was building his own business empire in so doing. Once this new idea took hold, “the great American southwest as an exotic tourist destination,” rail travel to the southwestern states exploded between the late 1800s and the early 1920s, and the era of Fred Harvey style tourist travel was well underway.

Image result for Fred Harvey and his daughters

A rodeo cowboy meets and greets two city slicker flappers who are taking a break from one of the train rides, circa 1920s.

Fred Harvey’s sons and wife carried on his amazing business legacy after his passing in 1901.


“Before the inclusion of dining cars in passenger trains became common practice, a rail passenger’s only option for meal service in transit was to patronize one of the roadhouses often located near the railroad’s water stops. Fare typically consisted of nothing more than rancid meat, cold beans, and week-old coffee. Such poor conditions understandably discouraged many Americans from making the journey westward.

The subsequent growth and development of the Fred Harvey Company was closely related to that of the Santa Fe Railway. Under the terms of an oral agreement, Harvey opened his first depot restaurant in Topeka, Kansas in January 1876. Railroad officials and passengers alike were impressed with Fred Harvey’s strict standards for high quality food and first class service. As a result, the Santa Fe entered into subsequent contracts with Harvey wherein he was given a “blank check” to set up a series of “eating houses” along almost the entire route. At more prominent locations, these eating houses evolved into hotels, many of which survive today. By the late 1880s, there was a Fred Harvey dining facility located every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line.

The Santa Fe agreed to convey fresh meat and produce free-of-charge to any Harvey House via its own private line of refrigerator cars, the Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch, and in them food was shipped from every corner of the United States. The company maintained two dairy facilities (the larger of the two was situated in Las Vegas, New Mexico) to ensure a consistent and adequate supply of fresh milk. When dining cars began to appear on trains, Santa Fe contracted with the Fred Harvey Company to operate the food service on the diners, and all Santa Fe advertising proclaimed “Fred Harvey Meals all the Way”.

Harvey’s meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public; for instance, pies were cut into fourths, rather than sixths, which was the industry standard at the time. The Harvey Company and the railroad established a series of signals that allowed the dining room staff to make the necessary preparations to feed an entire train in just thirty minutes. Harvey Houses served their meals on fine China and Irish linens. Fred Harvey, a fastidious innkeeper, set high standards for efficiency and cleanliness in his establishments, personally inspecting them as often as possible. It was said that nothing escaped his notice, and he was even known to completely overturn a poorly-set table. Male customers were even required to wear a coat and tie in many of Harvey’s dining rooms. Fulfilling their patriotic duty, the Harvey Houses served many a meal to GIs traveling on troop trains during World War II.

This mutually-beneficial relationship, characterized as one of the most successful and influential business partnerships in the early American West, endured until 1963.”

Here’s more interesting historical background on Fred Harvey:

See http://www.canyonroadarts.com/links/Fred%20Harvey%20Co.html 

“No organization had a greater impact on the American southwest than the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company. In fact, these companies practically “invented” the image of the southwest that Americans have today. The Fred Harvey Company promoted a “kinder-gentler” image of skilled artisans and colorful, peaceful, Indian cultures, instead of wild Indians, cowboys, and buffalos of the 19th century.
The Fred Harvey of Santa Fe Railway pioneered innovative marketing techniques that are still in use today in the travel industry. The Santa Fe could have called their trains the Stockyard Limited or the Wyatt Earp special. However, they chose exotic names from the southwest such as the Super Chief or the El Capitan. These names appeared on advertising posters throughout America with images of Navajo or Hopi Indians working on crafts of the southwest.
Few people today realize the impact the Fred Harvey Company had on Indian arts and crafts. Most people are familiar with the Fred Harvey Company’s involvement with food, lodging, and the Harvey Girls. But few are aware of the Fred Harvey Company’s involvement in the “curio” trade and even more astonishing, the impact on museum collections.
Minni” Harvey, Fred Harvey’s daughter, and Herman Schweizer, a German immigrant, became one of the largest collectors of American Indian art in the world. Herman Schweizer came to America from Germany on September 12, 1885. He traveled to Chicago where he met relatives and friends, then, on to Los Angeles. For a time, he worked for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later to become the Santa Fe Railroad) as a newsboy. However, Herman’s claim to fame with the Harvey Company came just after he had been appointed in charge of the Coolidge New Mexico eating house on the Santa Fe Railroad. In his spare time, Herman had roamed the Navajo and Hopi reservation in search of trinkets or curios to sell at the Coolidge restaurant. Minni Harvey was aware of the popularity of Herman’s curios at the Coolidge restaurant and encouraged him to expand his curios to other Harvey establishments. With Minni Harvey urging and Ford Harvey’s support, the company took on the Indian Curio Trade and established the Fred Harvey Indian Department in 1901. Even though H. L. Hunkel (Minni Harvey’s husband) was in charge of the Indian Department and lived in Kansas City, Herman Schweizer was the Harvey’s man to get things done when the Indian Department opened their building at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque in 1902. Herman was the “boss” in the southwest. Schweizer had spent over 16 years in the southwest and had developed an extensive network of personal relationships and business dealings. Furthermore, he had been hiring Navajo and Hopi craftsmen through a trading post in Thoreau, New Mexico to create Indian jewelry for the Harvey Company.
Herman created the Harvey style Indian bracelet. He found that the large turquoise nugget bracelet did not find favor with the Victorian traveler. He had the Indian craftsmen reduce the size of the traditional silver pieces that would appeal more to the traveling tourist and would better fit eastern dress styles.
Herman Schweizer spent most of his time with the Harvey Company developing the Indian Building  in Albuquerque and building networks of the curio trade for the Harvey Company. Perhaps, one could easily say that almost every trader in the southwest was on contract or employed by the Fred Harvey Company at any one time during the history of the company.
Herman did not stop at curios but began buying collections from the various traders to showcase in the Indian Building in Albuquerque. For over five years, Herman engaged in acquiring the finest of the southwest Indian art. The author, Frank Waters, indicated the “F. H. Indian Building at the Santa Fe Station in Albuquerque New Mexico was equal to any modern museum and all transcontinental passenger trains were stopped there for thirty miniutes.”
The early years of the 1900s was a period of great international expositions. Such opportunity was not lost to Herman Schweizer and the Fred Harvey Company at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair in St. Louis, the 1915 fairs at San Francisco and San Diego. The company saw the opportunity to promote travel and showcase Indian crafts of the southwest. Nampeyo, Maria Martinez, Fred Kobotie, Elle of Ganado were just a few of the Indian artists the Fred Harvey Company promoted at the world’s fairs to millions of Americans.

Indian Detour Bus, Santa Clara Pueblo, c. 1926

Although Herman Schweizer was known as the “Fred Harvey anthropologist,” he did not have the credentials of a true anthropologist. To establish legitimacy of the Harvey activities, Schweizer formed a business association with George A. Dorse, curator of Anthropology at the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, the Harvey Company purchased and sold major Indian art collections to collectors and Museums in the United States. Almost every major museum East of the Mississippi river acquired at least a few southwest ethnographic items from the Harvey Company.

The post World War II era changed the company drastically. Automobile availability and new transcontinental highways meant the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad no longer had complete control of travelers to the American southwest. The new highways did not pass by the Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels. Ford Harvey died in 1926, John F. Hunkel in 1936, and Herman Schweizer in 1943. By 1946, the Harvey Company no longer had unlimited funds to purchase private art collections and the great era of collecting ethnographic materials virtually came to an end. However, the company still controlled the vast amount of the items they had collected over their forty years of operations.

Interior of the Fred Harvey Store in the Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque, NM, circa 1905

Byron Harvey III, born in 1932, was the great-grandson of Fred Harvey, Sr. He attened Harvard and University of Chicago and completed a degree in anthropology at the University of New Mexico in 1960. Byron always had a strong interest in American Indian art and ethnographic materials. He took up the challenge of identifying information on the Fred Harvey collection that had been lost from the time of Herman Schweizer. Furthermore, he helped to shape the future of the Harvey Indian Art Collection begun in 1902. He helped organize the Fred Harvey Fine Arts Foundation in 1969, and gave much of his personal time and support to museums throughout the country. Byron was on the Harvey Foundation board when it donated over 4,000 items to the Heard Museum. Today, a large part of the Harvey collection resides at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

With increased interest in Indian Art and ethnographic material these days, the Harvey Fine Art Collection continues to inspire scholars, collectors, and the general public. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery is pleased to offer for sale ethnographic material and Indian arts from the great Fred Harvey era.”

Photo Gallery of Images from the Times of Fred Harvey and his family



Notice in this image the whirling crosses. The image of the whirling cross is one of the most ancient images in the world, and has been used by indigenous tribes on both sides of the ocean for thousands of years. It is truly tragic that Adolf Hitler adopted the use of this very ancient image for his own nefarious purposes during WW2. This photo was taken in the 1920s.

It’s been said that “The Atchison Topeka and Fred Harvey Civilized the Southwest” – photo of another one of the famous Harvey Houses, where meal portions were sumptuous and accommodations luxurious.


Victorian era travelers relax in rocking chairs on the grand promenade front porch of a Harvey House in Arizona, circa early 1900s.


This portion of Highway 64 was originally made by the Fred Harvey Company so its famous “Indian Detours” could convey tourists to the Canyon’s South Rim.



6 Responses to Who Was Fred Harvey?

  1. so are some jewelry pieces stamped Fred Harvey? How do the sellers who say Fred Harvey as part of their description know its Fred Harvey?


    • Screenshot says:

      You can date a Fred Harvey era piece by the condition of the sterling, the gems, age and wear in the band, and most decidedly by the style of the piece. The Navajo especially, had a “look” to their rings, pendants and cuffs during the early to mid 20th century that was decidedly “floral” in nature. Rings were decorated with “squash blossom” themse of flower petals, curling vines and buds, and curling leaves in sterling silver. The Navajo excelled in this type of sterling silver repousse applied bench work in their jewelry. The period I collect is early 1900s to about 1970 or thereabouts. But even modern era Navajo jewelry still reflects these motifs, as upcoming jewelry designers pay tribute to their predecessors, who were often their fathers, mothers and grandparents. Many Fred Harvey era pieces are unsigned, meaning they were made for personal wear or as gifts. Hope this helps. – Leigh


      • Connie Laughlin says:

        How are the pieces that ARE marked, marked?


      • Screenshot says:

        They will usually have a tribal glyph stamped, or their initials, or both. But many Fred Harvey era rings were unsigned, meaning they were made for personal use or as gifts for the family. Examination of the style and quality of the sterling silver bench work can also assist in dating a ring. Hope this helps.


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