Riding the Rails with the Harvey Girls

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All aboard! This week, The Feast is riding the rails with an icon of American dining, the Harvey House. Founded by Fred Harvey in the 1870s, Harvey Houses marked the first attempt to provide standardized high quality dining experiences to passengers travelling the American West by rail. We'll also take a look at Harvey's army of waitresses, the Harvey Girls, who served the best steak and coffee from Leavenworth to Los Angeles. Find out how Fred Harvey got his start in railroad restaurants and how this chain of eating houses (as well as eventual hotels) became a fixture of American life in the 19th and 20th century, found everywhere from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to Disneyland! 

Written and Produced by Laura Carlson

Sound Engineering by Mike Portt

Judy Garland starring in Harvey Girls (1946)

Although the heyday of the Harvey Girls and the Harvey Houses was already waning by the mid-1940s, Hollywood celebrated this American institution in musical form with the hit film, Harvey Girls. Starring Judy Garland, the film also featured the hit song of the airwaves for 1946, "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe", the name of the rail line on which most of the Harvey Houses featured (although, ironically, the rail line never *actually* made it to the city of Santa Fe). 

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The Harvey Girl uniform was a point of pride within the company. Strict regulations governed how, where, and when employees (almost entirely women) were expected to wear the uniform. Defined by a black long dress underneath a crisply starched white apron, Harvey Girls were expected to keep their uniforms immaculate while on duty. Above is just one page from the extensive Harvey Girl employee guide.  

Learn More About Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls