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"inventor" of the "portable diner"
Arthur Hoyt Valentine was born in Elliott, Illinois, on June 4, 1891. Nothing is known about his early life, except that he married Ella Creach in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, in 1912, and that the couple moved to Kansas in 1914.
How Valentine initially supported himself and his wife is unknown, but he was selling cars in Great Bend, Kansas, by the late-1920's. Sometime around 1930 he and his wife opened a restaurant in Hazelton, Kansas. That restaurant was so successful that the Valentines soon owned and operated a chain of about 50 diners across the Midwest. What made the Valentine Lunch System, as the chain came to be called, somewhat unique is that each diner was little more than a counter that could seat 8 to 10 patrons at a time which wrapped around the kitchen area. The layout meant that each diner could be easily manned by one or two employees, keeping wage costs to a minimum, while simultaneously allowing the employees to better serve the customers.
Most of Valentine's diners were housed in prefabricated buildings, which cost far less than standard-built structures. At that time there were several companies selling such buildings, but one built for him by the Ablah Hotel Supply Company of Wichita, Kansas, so impressed Valentine that he arranged to become a salesman for the company, while simultaneously expanding and maintaining his restaurant chain. In 1938 Ablah decided to get out of the prefabricated metal building market and turned that part of its operation over to Valentine. Lacking the expertise and facilities to do his own manufacturing, Valentine formed a partnership with Hayes Manufacturing Company of Wichita to design, build and sell a line of portable, prefabricated diners. Metal shortages during World War II forced both companies to suspend operations, and Valentine went to work as an inspector for Boeing. After the war Valentine contracted with H&H Parts (of Wichita) to begin building diners again. In 1947 he bought out H&H Parts and combined all phases of his prefabricated diner business into Valentine Manufacturing, Inc.
Valentine Manufacturing, Inc. logo
Valentine Diners were designed so that all the new owner had to do was set it on a foundation and connect the utilities, everything else was included -- the kitchen, counter, stools, lighting and plumbing fixtures, and even a bathroom. If business at one location waned, the building was constructed in such a way that it could be easily disconnected from utilities, loaded onto a flatbed, and moved to a more promising site. Although other companies also manufactured and sold portable, prefabricated buildings, Valentine Diners had a reputation for quality workmanship that surpassed most of its competitors. In addition, Wichita's central location meant that Valentine could charge far less for delivery than its competitors, most of which were on the East Coast. Valentine also offered a monthly installment plan, an unheard of practice in those days; of course, since the buildings were built to be portable, if an owner defaulted on payments all Valentine had to do was send a truck to "uproot" the building and take it back to Wichita.
In addition to its line of basic diners, Valentine also offered diners with booths and/or drive-up windows, as well as buildings with shelving instead of restaurant fixtures that could be used to house a variety of stores.
Arthur Valentine's health began to fail in 1951, and he moved to a farm near Douglass, Kansas. Although he was by then only minimally involved with the day-to-day operations of Valentine Manufacturing, he did not stop innovating; he patented a mower attachment designed to make cutting hay easier ten days before death, which came in Wichita on September 3, 1954. The company was sold to the Radcliff family in 1957, and was operated under various names until 1968, when it became a division of Pyramid Manufacturing, Inc., which itself went out of business in 1973.
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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.