Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fast Food in the Old West: Entrepreneurship and Utility

There is an extremely interesting book review in the most recent Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal. The book reviewed is Appetite for America by Stephen Fried, and it describes the life of Fred Harvey. Harvey was a 19th-century entrepreneur who developed and operated the first fast food chain in the United States. By putting his restaurants at railroad depots shortly after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and then standardizing fare, maintaining quality, and staffing the restaurants with young ladies, he provided utility for travelers and frontier residents alike.

The utility I refer to are the basic types of utility (form, place, time). He was able to provide meals of predictable quality in a convenient place (think about on/off ramps on the interstates of today) and in short order (the train frequently didn't stop for long).

As to entrepreneurship, I'm falling back on Schumpeter's five roles of the entrepreneur:
introduction of a new product,
using new or different inputs to produce a product,
introduction of new technology or process,
opening a new market,
and creating a new economic organization.
I can make a case for at least three of these (the second, fourth and fifth). And after I read the book, I may be able to make a case for more.

I think this book could be useful to both the economics and the American History teacher. I will add it to my carousel at left. And I will try to review it when I read it. But be forewarned - my current 'to be read' pile is fairly tall. I look forward to your comments.


Mark Witte said...

The article stresses another aspect of Harvey's success, and probably something that figures into many successful entrepreneurial ventures: sex appeal!

Tim Schilling said...

That's actually what I was referring to when I mentioned Schumpeter's second characteristic: using young women to take orders and serve. And as the article points out, many of them actually got married to customers.

Mark Witte said...

Ah, good point. I'll have to see this movie: