Learn about the Fred Harvey Company
Fred Harvey: A travel industry pioneer forever changed the way America viewed the Southwest
Just like The Coca-Cola Company formed the modern image of Santa Claus, when you think of the American Southwest, you are likely picturing an image that was created by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey company at the turn of the last century.
Replacing the established “Old West” mythology of rough cowboys and fierce Native American warriors, the two companies instead promoted a region with skilled artisans living in peaceful cultures. The railroad gave their trains evocative names such as El Capitan, and posters for the area depicted Hopi and Navajo craftspeople working amid stunning Southwestern surroundings.
Inventing a market - and a product
The jewelry now known as Fred Harvey jewelry may look Native American made, but the pieces were instead company-designed products - the brainchild of German immigrant Herman Schweizer and Fred Harvey’s daughter, Minni Harvey Huckel. Herman Schweizer came to the United States from Germany in 1885. He worked for railroads as a newsboy and worked his way up to managing the Coolidge, NM restaurant on the Santa Fe Railroad line. Schweizer explored the Hopi and Navajo reservations in his spare time, seeking trinkets to sell in the restaurant.
Collection of Fred Harvey jewelry c. 1930-40
Courtesy Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Schweizer’s curios were popular. Minni Harvey Huckel encouraged Schweizer to expand these products to the other Harvey locations. Schweizer gained the support of company president, Ford Harvey (who took over the company's operation after Fred Harvey’s 1901 death), and started the company’s “Indian Department” in 1901.
Minni Harvey Huckel’s husband, H.L. Huckel, was the titular head of the Fred Harvey Company Indian Department, but Schweizer was the man who set the direction for the company’s successful curio trade.
What Schweizer learned was that traditional silver jewelry as worn and made by the Navajo and Hopi were too heavy for the traveler from the east. To appeal more to the Victorian aesthetic, he had his craftsmen reduce the size of the turquoise stones and the thickness of the silver used in the jewelry. These changes were more in keeping with the tourist’s preferred style of dress and were wildly popular.
Cultural impact of the Fred Harvey Company
In addition to the Fred Harvey jewelry, most people today associate the Fred Harvey Company with restaurants, hotels, and the famous “Harvey Girls” - attractive young women who served as hostesses, serving food and providing a genteel atmosphere for tourists in unfamiliar surroundings.
Herman Schweizer devoted energy to building extensive tourist trade networks for the Fred Harvey Company. During the company’s history, almost every trader in the region worked for or with the company at some point.
But Schweizer did not only focus on curious and tourist trinkets. For years, he also purchased the finest authentic Native American art from Southwest cultures for exhibit in the Fred Harvey Company Indian Building.
Postcard of the Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque, NM, c. 1920
Courtesy Palace of the Governors (MNM/DCA) Negative no: 046643
Indian Room, Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque, NM, c. 1905
Photo by Keystone View Co. Courtesy Palace of the Governors (MNM/DCA) Negative no: 089390
Author and Native American historian Frank Waters (1902-1995) said that 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 minutes.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, international expositions were all the rage - and provided the Fred Harvey Company and Schweizer with an opportunity to promote tourism and showcase indigenous Southwestern crafts. The company participated in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair (St. Louis) and the 1915 fairs in San Diego and San Francisco. Renowned artists Maria Martinez, Nampeyo, Elle of Ganado, and Fred Kobotie were some of the Native American artisans that the company introduced to millions of American fairgoers.
Schweizer was known informally as “the Fred Harvey anthropologist,” but he did not have academic anthropology credentials. To give legitimacy to the Fred Harvey Company pursuits, he formed a professional collaboration with anthropologist curator George A. Dorse of the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.
The impact of the Fred Harvey Company on American museum collections was notable. Through the early 1900s, the company was actively buying and selling Native American art to collectors and museums. At the time, almost all significant museums in the eastern United States had acquired ethnographic pieces from the company.
The later years of the Fred Harvey Company
After WWII, the company faced serious challenges and changes. Increased availability of automobiles and the new interstate highways broke the monopoly the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company had on Southwest travel. Moreover, the Harvey hotels and restaurants were not on new highway system routes.
Ford Harvey (Fred Harvey’s son and successor) died in 1926, John Hunkel in 1936, and Schweizer in 1943. By the mid-1940s, the Fred Harvey Company could no longer afford to purchase art collections, thus ending its ethnographic collecting endeavors - though they still had sizable holdings in their existing collection.
Byron S Harvey III (1932-2005) was the great-grandson of Fred Harvey, Sr. and a formally trained anthropologist. The scholar devoted himself to identifying the Fred Harvey collection items and helped establish the Harvey Indian Art Collection's future path. He also was seminal in the creation of the Fred Harvey Fine Arts Foundation in 1969. Byron Harvey was a member of the Harvey Foundation board of directors when they donated more than 4,000 Native American items to the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Much of the collection is still housed at the Heard today.
Resources: “The Fred Harvey Company,” by Jerry Freund. Canyon Road Arts: The Complete Visitors Guide to Arts, Dining and Santa Fe Lifestyle, Vol 3, 2007-2008, pages 136-141.