Ralph Harold Snyder is the man most often credited with bringing the poultry industry to the Arkansas River Valley. In 1960, the company he founded, Arkansas Valley Industries, Inc. (AVI), became the first wholly integrated poultry business to make its stock available to the public.
Harold Snyder was born on April 3, 1915, in Winfield, Kansas, to Roy C. and Mildred (Poland) Snyder. As a young boy, he moved with his parents and five siblings to Green Forest (Carroll County), where he was raised on a small hill farm. Snyder was valedictorian of his high school class, and he was elected state president of the Arkansas Future Farmers of America. Based on this record, he received a scholarship to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), which he supplemented with a dishwashing job for spending money. He graduated with a BS in agriculture in 1937.
At the age of twenty-four, Snyder arrived in Dardanelle (Yell County), the town that was to become his home, to serve as the director of vocational agriculture at the high school. While there, he met and married Evelyn Clair Boyce in August 1941. The couple had one child, Betsy.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Snyder joined the U.S. Navy and served as a lieutenant stationed in the Philippines. After World War II, Snyder returned to Dardanelle and accepted an offer to become the manager of Arkansas Valley Feed Mill. The plant, located at the foot of the Dardanelle Bridge, opened in the fall of 1946 and was the only complete feed mill and elevator between Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County). It was the first company in Arkansas to employ a new dehydration process and then use those dehydrated products in finished feed. A Tyson Foods, Inc., storage facility now sits on the site.
The Arkansas Valley Feed Mill was the beginning of Arkansas Valley Industries, Inc. In 1948, Snyder worked out an agreement with Henry Balloun, a Dardanelle farmer, to raise 6,000 broiler chickens. Neither of them knew much about the chicken business, and the mortality rate was high in the first batch of chicks. Some of that flock was carried into those two men’s homes and placed beside stoves to save them. Later batches were successful. In 1958, Snyder was successful in bringing about a merger that brought together companies in all phases of the broiler business and enabled the company to make its first public stock offering. Egg production, broiler growing, feed manufacturing, and chicken and turkey processing were all part of this company. It sold its products under the brand name Betsy’s Best and had plants in Dardanelle, Russellville (Pope County), Morrilton (Conway County), Waldron (Scott County), and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), as well as in Ohio and Kentucky. In 1969, the company merged with McFadden Brothers of Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest and largest merchants of raw cotton and real estate, and was known as Valmac Industries. The plants now operate as part of Tyson Foods, Inc.
Snyder was also the founder and president of Arkansas Valley Bank, which opened in Dardanelle in September 1961. The bank was located on the corner of Front and Locust streets in the old Crownover building. The bank was sold about one year after his death and is now known as First Arkansas Valley Bank and headquartered in Russellville.
In addition to his business ventures, Snyder was involved in a wide range of civic affairs. He was one of the early leaders in the Arkansas River Navigation Project and the construction of the Dardanelle Dam. He also served as president of the National Broiler Council and as head of many local organizations. He was an active member of the Democratic Party and a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church. He is a member of the Poultry Hall of Fame at UA, the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Tech University Hall of Distinction.
Snyder died in his sleep of a heart attack on February 21, 1972. He and his wife, Evelyn, are buried in Brearly Cemetery in Dardanelle.
For additional information:
“Arkansas Valley Industries.” Arkansas Gazette. June 19, 1960, p. 5E.
“Poultry Firm Founder Dies at Age of 56.” Arkansas Gazette. February 22, 1972, p. 8B.
Strausberg, Stephen F. From Hills and Hollers: Rise of the Poultry Industry in Arkansas Fayetteville: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1995.
Betsy Snyder Harris