Robert F. Byrnes collection of automat memorabilia

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Collection Data

The collection contains a portion of the records of two companies: Horn & Hardart Baking Co. of Philadelphia, the parent company, and its subsidiary, Horn & Hardart Co. of New York. The bulk of the collection pertains to the Horn & Hardart Company of New York. The collection contains administrative records, legal documents, financial records, printed material, ephemera, and photographs of the Automats in New York City and the surrounding area.
Byrnes, Robert Francis (Collector)
Horn & Hardart Baking Co. (Creator)
Horn & Hardart Co. (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1912 - 1999
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 448
Food presentation
Food service -- New York City
Restaurants -- New York (State) -- New York
Biographical/historical: Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart founded the Horn & Hardart Co., in Philadelphia in 1902. Horn and Hardart started their careers in 1888 with a luncheonette in Philadelphia. This soon changed, when Hardart became inspired by the "waiterless" service at some of Europe's fine restaurants and hotels. While in Europe, Hardart purchased the automat equipment in Berlin, but the ship transporting it sank during a storm in the English Channel. Not discouraged, Horn & Hardart reordered the equipment. When the first Automat opened, the novelty of receiving one's food from a self-contained glass enclosure after depositing a nickel or two created an immense impression on the public. The Horn & Hardart partners found a winning formula with the Automat. After their initial success in Philadelphia, the first New York Automat opened at 1557 Broadway in 1912. Frank Hardart, Sr. died in 1918; Joe Horn remained as president of both the New York and Philadelphia companies until his death in 1941. The company would eventually grow to 165 locations - the Automats, cafeterias, and retail food shops. Most of the Horn & Hardart establishments in Philadelphia were cafeteria-style, while most in New York catered to a more hurried clientele, and thus were true automats. The New York Horn & Hardart Automats rank among the legendary eating establishments of New York City, along with Mary Elizabeth, Chock Full O' Nuts, Nedick's, Longchamps and Schrafft's. The Automats are remembered for their Art Deco buildings and stained glass windows, as well as their famous baked beans. Customers knew that they could be assured of finding food with a uniform taste regardless of which Automat location they visited. It was the policy of Horn & Hardart Co. that its mass-produced food have uniform taste and coloring as well as portion size. It achieved this consistency in New York by constructing a central commissary, where executives would taste dishes daily. The nickels were dispensed to customers by women cashiers, or "nickel throwers." The coins turned the cashiers' hands black as the black dresses that they were required to wear. Others recall more unpleasant aspects: In 1952, a college student employed by Local 302 of the Cafeteria Workers Union to organize Automat workers discovered that Automat employees were paid two to three times less than the cafeteria workers, and African-Americans were not permitted to serve food or put food into the machines, as described by Melvin S. Barasch of Brooklyn in The New York Times "Letters to the Editor", April 15, 1991. During the 1960's and 1970's, the Horn & Hardart Co. faced increasing competition from fast food chains. Philadelphia's restaurants were the first to go, followed by New York's Automats. The company converted some of the Automats into Arby's and Burger King franchises. Others were demolished to make way for new buildings. During the 1980s, the Horn & Hardart Co. included among its properties the Bojangles chicken restaurants and the Hanover House mail-order firm. The company eventually sold off most of these holdings, emerging as Hanover House, a direct-marketing concern, during the 1990s. For a deeper inquiry into Horn & Hardart, see Diehl, Loraine B. and Marianne Hardart, The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart's Masterpiece, New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002. Robert F. Byrnes (1909-2000), the donor of the collection, spent his entire sixty-three-year career with Horn & Hardart. Two decades after Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened the first Automat in the United States, in Philadelphia, Byrnes began working for the company as an office boy. He became Controller of the company in 1953, and his ascent in management continued in subsequent years to the positions of Treasurer and Vice President. He retired as Executive Vice President of Horn & Hardart Co., New York, in 1988.
Content: The collection consists of a selection of records of the Horn & Hardart Co. of New York, and the Horn & Hardart Baking Co. of Philadelphia. Records of the Horn & Hardart Co. of New York dominate the collection. The records of the New York company include a sampling of administrative records such as annual reports, 1932-1994, minutes, 1911-1987, by-laws, certificate of incorporation, contracts, reports, and pension plans and programs. The financial and real estate records contain property accounts, customer accounts, stocks and related material, mainly for the years from 1940s through the 1960s. The Horn & Hardart Baking Co. of Philadelphia records consist of annual reports, 1929-1970s, reports, an address of the President Joseph V. Horn (1912), and agreements and financial documents primarily for the 1950s through the 1960s. Black and white photographs of Automats and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings complete the collection.
Physical Description
Extent: 15.06 linear feet (37 boxes, 3 volumes)
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b15082159
MSS Unit ID: 448
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 3f019f90-d763-0138-3776-00b4c2bf1914
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