This paper aims to examine the entrepreneurial Fred Harvey Company's early public relations and publicity efforts to determine what they add to our knowledge of the development of public relations in the USA.
This historical analysis uses mainly data gleaned from an in‐depth examination of the two archival sources available: the Fred Harvey Company photographs and papers at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ (at about ten linear feet, the most complete collection of Harvey materials), and the Fred Harvey Collection at the University of Arizona (photographs, correspondence, and miscellaneous records).
Although the dominant historical perspective has labeled this era the “Seedbed Years” and characterized them as “a day of business arrogance toward employee and citizen alike”, this case suggests that other models of practice were in use that developed out of differing cultural milieux. To the dominant view of public relations developing in the USA as a result of business pressures, then, should be added the perspective of organizational culture and the role it played in the development and professionalism of the field.
This one case study cannot be generalized to the whole field; however, the findings support those of a growing number of other scholars (Sullivan, Piasecki), suggesting that the dominant evolutionary paradigm of US public relations history artificially constricts our understanding of the field.
The insider's perspective gained through this study has implications for professionalism, integrated communications, and ethical practice.
This paper examines a previously unknown case in US public relations history and sheds light on early public relations and publicity methods that challenge the dominant paradigm in US scholarship. The notion of press agentry as the dominant practice is explored and challenged.
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