This post—originally published by Los Angeles Magazine in 2012, in collaboration with L.A. as Subject—reappears here as part of the USC Libraries' Discover at a Distance initiative, which highlights ways the libraries support the USC community with resources for remote teaching and learning.
It’s not sloppy punctuation. It might come as a disappointment to indignant Southern California grammarians, but an apostrophe has never graced the name of Ralphs supermarkets. The regional grocer takes the last name of its founder, George A. Ralphs, a master bricklayer who turned to the grocery business after losing his arm in a hunting accident. Ralphs teamed with S. A. Francis in 1873 to open the Ralphs & Francis store at Fifth and Hill in downtown Los Angeles. Two years later, Ralphs’ brother Walter bought out Francis’ share, and the business became the Ralphs Bros. Grocers.
Specializing in locally sourced produce, the business boomed. In 1876 they constructed a two-story building—complete with a hitching rack in the back for horses—on the southwest corner of Sixth and Spring. Pictured here in an 1885 photograph from the USC Libraries, the Ralphs Bros. grocery store became a hub for everyday commerce. Many Angelenos could reach the store on foot, while farmers drove in from the countryside, their wagons loaded with staples like grains, butter, bacon, and eggs that fed the booming city.
As Los Angeles grew, so did its leading grocery business. In 1901 the store moved to bigger quarters a block south on Spring Street, and in 1911 Ralphs became a chain with the opening of a branch store at Pico and Normandie.
Successful in business but unlucky in sport, George Ralphs died in 1914, crushed by a boulder while hiking in the San Bernardino Mountains. His survivors, meanwhile, continued to grow the chain. It remained a family-owned company until 1968, when the Ralphs family sold to Federated Department Stores. Today more than 200 Ralphs supermarkets, operating as a division of the Kroger Co., serve Los Angeles and environs.
Discover more, at a distance:
- Search the USC Digital Library's California Historical Society and Dick Whittington Photography collections for more images related to the Ralphs chain
- Search ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times (USC login required)
- Read "Super City: Los Angeles and the Birth of the Supermarket, 1914–1941" from the journal California History (USC login required)