Fred Harvey, the Man, the Era, the Jewelry

Fred Harvey (1835-1901) and the phrase “Fred Harvey era” are often misunderstood and misused when it comes to describing early Native American style jewelry.

Fred Harvey lived during fascinating times and his story tells us much about US transportation, westward travel, railway restaurant cars and the early tourist trade. But what is curious about his legacy is that we Native American jewelry aficionados erroneously use his name to describe a particular type of Native American style tourist jewelry that he personally did not have much to do with and that actually exploded onto the scene after his death.

Instead of referring to the the tourist jewelry from the era as “Fred Harvey jewelry”, it has been suggested that “railroad jewelry” would have been more appropriate. But that’s water over the bridge.

Is Fred Harvey responsible for the introduction of Americans to America? Yes.

Is he responsible for the first Native American jewelry boom in the US? Well, yes and no. But that’s putting the caboose before the engine. To understand the man, the era, and the jewelry, first of all a very brief timeline:

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1835    Fred Harvey was born in London, England

1850    Fred Harvey, age 15, sailed to America, his first job was a dishwasher in NYC. He became a US citizen in 1858

1876   Fred Harvey entered into a handshake agreement with restaurant operator Peter Cline who ran the eatery at the Topeka, Kansas railway depot to transform the lunchroom to better serve train passengers. After a radical makeover, he offered a 35 cent breakfast which included steak, eggs, hash browns, six wheat pancakes with maple syrup, apple pie and coffee all served in a clean and pleasant atmosphere.

1878    Fred Harvey signed a contract with the Santa Fe Railway (also known as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe or AT&SF) to operate small restaurants (called tea rooms) at railroad depots along the railroad’s route.

Early Santa Fe Railway

Early Santa Fe Railway

1880 and onward trading post owners (called traders) began carrying tools and supplies for the Native American production of spoons, buttons, squash blossom necklaces, and other jewelry items.

1885   Fred Harvey managed 17 lunchrooms, called Harvey Houses, along Santa Fe’s line. They were run by Harvey Girls, single, young waitresses in starched uniforms.

A Harvey Girl in a Harvey House lunchroom in the early 1900s

A Harvey Girl in a Harvey House lunchroom in the early 1900s

1888    Fred Harvey begins to operate dining cars on the Santa Fe Railway. He signed his last contract with the Santa Fe Railroad in 1899. Here is a sample menu from one of the Harvey dining cars.


Santa Fe Railway dining car interior - 1890

Santa Fe Railway dining car interior – 1890

1899    Fred Harvey Company (notably Indian Jewelry manager Herman Schweizer) supplied pre-cut turquoise and pre-measured silver pieces to traders for the manufacture of lightweight jewelry (aka railroad jewelry) to satisfy the demand of the railroad tourist trade.

Phoenix early 1900s

Phoenix early 1900s

1901    Fred Harvey died at age 65.  His son, Ford Harvey assumed control of the Fred Harvey Company

1909    The Thunderbird design was copyrighted by Fred Harvey Co.

Bell Trading Co. Thunderbird Cuff in Copper

Bell Trading Co. Thunderbird Cuff in Copper

1920    Fred Harvey Co. is the principal concessionaire in the newly established Grand Canyon National Park.

1923    Maisel’s Indian Trading Post opens in Albuquerque offering coin silver jewelry

1932  Bell Trading Co began operation

1935    Maisel’s merges with Bell Trading Co. and Bell converts to machine manufacturing remaining in business until 1972

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Fred Harvey’s main goal as an entrepreneur was to provide good food and good service for railroad travelers. He was immensely successful at that and essentially developed America’s first chain restaurants – Harvey House.

So what does he have to do with the railroad jewelry?  He created the market and the place to sell the wares. By making travelers comfortable, well fed and happy, they were ready to purchase souvenirs as mementos of their travels. The lightweight tourist jewelry was sold in the depot hotels and restaurants and alongside the train tracks.


1905 Fred Harvey Gift Shop Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque NM

1905 Fred Harvey Gift Shop Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque NM

Some of the most popular items were bracelets, pins, spoons, all heavily laden with symbols.

Indian Symbols 2

The meanings for these symbols, in a large part, did not come from the Native Americans but were made up by the marketers of the jewelry such as Herman Schweizer of the Fred Harvey Company. He is attributed to say that the very popular Thunderbird symbol was (see the Harvey chart below) the “sacred bearer of happiness unlimited.”  That sounds good, I’ll take two.


Bell Trading Co copper symbol bracelet

Bell Trading Co copper symbol braceletCSB21-symbols-bell-2CSB21-symbols-bell-3

Early Whirling Logs ring

Early Whirling Logs ring

One of the most popular tourist pieces was the split shank Pretty Girl bracelet.

The peak of the Fred Harvey era tourist-quality Native American style jewelry was from 1900-1930, the decline caused mainly by the closure of the railroad depot lunchrooms and shops. Even so, it continued to be produced until the mid 1940s or 1950s.  The Bell Trading Co. continued on until the 1970s.

The authentic, sometimes called ethnographic, Native American jewelry was made before and during the tourist era and continues to be made today. Using heavier silver and stones, authentic Native American jewelry speaks volumes about its heritage and makers.

Fact or Fiction?

The Fred Harvey Company produced Indian jewelry. FALSE

All “Fred Harvey era” southwest jewelry was Indian made. FALSE

Some tourist jewelry is Indian made. TRUE



fred harvey the man


Origin of Stamped Cuff Bracelet please……….

Hello Paula,
This cuffed bracelet is the only item I saved from my “play” jewelry as a child.  It was probably given to me from my grandmother about 40 or 50 years ago.  I have no other history about it.
Do you recognize this stamped symbols on this bracelet or possibly it’s origin?
Thank you for your blog. Any insight is very much appreciated.
!cid_1_2171128228@web181405_mail_ne1_yahoo !cid_2_2171128228@web181405_mail_ne1_yahoo !cid_3_2171128228@web181405_mail_ne1_yahoo 2014bettyfunk_braceletHI Betty,
Your very handsome bracelet seems to be a nickel silver bracelet from the Fred Harvey era, probably from Bell Trading Company
It is possible that is the remnant of one of theirs or Sun Bells hallmarks and is just worn from years of play !
It is of the typical design and style and with stamps of that era.
To view our full list of article or to ask a jewelry question, follow the instructions here you are selling your jewelry, read this our pawn shop for your research and shopping
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Are these items from my grandmother real?

Hi Paula,
I found your email from a blog and was wondering if you could take a look at a couple of pieces of jewelry that I inherited from my late grandmother. I know nothing about these pieces or even if they are real. Any help is greatly appreciated. There is a necklace, ring and bracelet.
Thank you so much,
2013-07-05 16.14.28 2013-07-05 16.14.42 2013-07-05 16.20.19 2013-07-05 16.33.00Hi Jennifer,
Yes of course they are real !! I see them and you can touch them !! All joking aside…….
Whether or not these items are Native American made or not, they are treasures since they came from your grandmother !
I’d say the necklace is Native American style but not Native American made.
The bracelet could very well be Native American made – it looks like something from the Fred Harvey era, perhaps from Bell Trading Company. You can read about that in these articles and perhaps look for some hallmarks.
As far as the ring, it is a chip inlay ring that may or may not be Native American made.  We have a similar ring in our pawn shop that tests positive for sterling silver but has no hallmarks. It came in an estate lot so we don’t know the origin of it but if you click on this photo it will take you to the page where you can read more about it and chip inlay.
Enjoy your treasures !  And be sure to read the comments left by others about this post. Valuable information !

What Bell markings are on this copper bracelet?

Hi Paula

I have a question about this bracelet:
CSB60-612-sunburst-1 CSB60-612-sunburst-2
The description says that it is made by Bell, and I was wondering if there are any of the Bell markings on the bracelet since I can’t see the completely backside of it.
Hi Amy,
It has the Zia sun symbol with a bell
which is one of Bell’s hallmarks after 1972.
You can see that hallmark on this post Bell Trading Company History and Hallmarks.