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All kinds of fans — railroads, restaurants and working women — should mark Friday on their calendars."

To help celebrate it 125th anniversary, St. Louis Union Station wants all descendants of those who worked here as "Harvey Girls" to attend a free reception from noon to 2 p.m. at the downtown landmark.

Guests will be able to sample food based on old Harvey recipes. RSVPs are required; space is limited.

For the unaware, Englishman Fred Harvey basically invented business chains, created the first independent female work force and helped define a nation's idea of travel, service and cuisine, said Stephen Fried, author of Harvey's biography, "Appetite For America."

Harvey Influence

This undated photo provided by Random House via the Albuquerque Journal shows entrepreneur Fred Harvey. Before there was Coca-Cola, McDonald's or Starbucks, there was the Harvey House. In the 1880s and early decades of the 1900s, the Harvey Girls were as common as Starbucks baristas. Every dusty railroad town boasted a Harvey restaurant where patrons could count on a good meal, once a rarity in what was considered cowboy country. (AP Photo/Random House via the Albuquerque Journal)

Fried will be at Friday's fete to speak and sell/sign copies of his book. 

"St. Louis is actually where Fred Harvey became Fred Harvey," Fried said.

Harvey's story begins in earnest near where the Gateway Arch now stands.

He arrived in the U.S. in 1853 and worked at several New York restaurants before heading out west to see what Harvey called "the real America."

By the late 1850s, Harvey and a partner owned a restaurant at 8 Chestnut Street, near what is now the north leg of the Arch, Fried said.

But as more Americans kept migrating west, Harvey decided to open up a "chain" of restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad line.

By the 1890s, Harvey's company had about 60 locations along the line, from Chicago to California and down into Oklahoma and Texas. They were known for their consistent quality and cleanliness.

He also set up shop in larger "union" stations that were being built in western cities, with St. Louis being Harvey's first. He would later operate out of the stations in Chicago, Kansas City and Los Angeles.

His best-known innovation was the "Harvey Girl," — young, wholesome-looking servers in long black dresses and white aprons, between 18 and 30. They lived in chaperoned housing that Harvey provided adjacent to the restaurants.

Harvey Girls

A team of Harvey Girls in the 1940s at Union Station (Photo by St. Louis Union Station)

Harvey's decision to hire only women, coming some 40 years before the national feminist movement of the 1920s, created a way for young, single women to travel unescorted and earn a living, Fried said.

Hitting a peak number of 80 locations in the early 1900s, most Harvey restaurants closed in the 1950s. The St. Louis location, in what now is the Station Grille, closed in 1970.

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