Review: Appetite for America, by Stephen Fried

Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West, by Stephen Fried. New York: Bantam Books, 2010. 515 pp. $27 (hardcover).


Granted, the subtitle of Appetite For America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West is hyperbolic, but author Stephen Fried’s narrative makes a strong case for Fred Harvey’s immense contributions to America’s westward expansion. Fried tells how Harvey and the two generations of Harveys that succeeded him pioneered and developed many business and marketing concepts still in use today.

Fried first covers Harvey’s early years, from his 1853 arrival in New York—as a seventeen-year-old Englishman with only two pounds in his pocket—to his initial venture into food service, which ended when his partner, a Confederate sympathizer, absconded with all their money and left him to start over at twenty-six. Fried next shows Harvey working on packet boats and as a railroad agent, earning the respect of those with whom he worked and formulating the plans for his next venture in food service.

As Fried tells us, Harvey, during his constant railroad travel as an agent, noticed that the food and service at train depots was awful (and often unscrupulous), and he knew he could do better. Thus began Harvey’s initial steps toward the construction of his hospitality empire. Because of Harvey’s excellent relationships with the railroad executives with whom he had worked and his knowledge of the food service business, he and a partner were able to operate three eating houses along the Kansas Pacific Railway. Although these establishments were successful, Harvey soon decided to go out on his own and start the company that would bear his name. . . .

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