He was born in Augusta, Maine. His sons George and John were on the cover of Time magazine in November 1950. The magazine wrote that next to General Motors, the A&P sold more goods than any other company in the world and had close to 16,000 stores in the USA. George Huntington Hartford was the grandfather of the famous Huntington Hartford who developed Paradise Island in the Bahamas, founded the Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle, and was famous as one of the world's richest men in the 1960s.
Hartford died on August 29, 1917, aged 84, and was interred at Rosedale Cemetery, in Orange, New Jersey. Hartford’s estate was worth $125 million dollars. Business went on as usual after his death; the press respected that he was a private man, and there were very few obituaries about his life. His sons, George L. Hartford and John A. Hartford, who had been involved in the business since the early 1800s, ran the family company. Stores continued to expand. By 1920, there were 4,544 stores nationwide.
Gilman advised GHH to go to St. Louis, Missouri and set up an extension of Gilman's leather company. In St. Louis, Hartford was very successful in securing accounts for Gilman, and returned to New York in 1860 to help Gilman expand his business. The plan was to import quality tea and sell it for lower than average prices. In 1863 their idea took off and the Great American Tea Company was formed. With Hartford’s business savvy and Gilman’s flair the duo had twenty five stores by 1865. The Great American Tea Company began to offer other goods in their stores such as coffee, spices, and soaps, and business continued to rise. Due to the success of Hartford and Gilman’s company other companies similar to theirs began rise, and in an effort to distinguish themselves the Great American Tea Company was changed to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company or "A&P" in 1869 in honor of the new transcontinental railroad.
By 1878, A&P had grown to seventy stores stretching from many New England cities to Buffalo, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. This same year George Gilman retired and GHH took on the position of mayor for Orange, New Jersey.
In 1880, GHH's son, George Ludlum Hartford, convinced his father to begin to start A&P’s private label food line beginning with baking soda. Producing their own label A&P was able to produce quality products and sell them for below average prices, just as they had twenty years earlier with tea. Soon after, Eight O'Clock Coffee joined baking soda on A&P’s private label as well as their own brand names of Sunny Field and Sultan. These additions helped A&P reach one hundred stores by 1880, and it also allowed for GHH to focus on being mayor. GHH served for twelve one-year terms and placed his sons, George Ludium Hartford and John Augustine Hartford in charge.
In 1901, GHH's business partner George Gilman died, and left the $5.5 million dollar A& P in limbo. Since there was no written agreement between Hartford and Gilman, only a gentleman’s bond, Gilman’s family pursued legal action to acquire A&P. It was at this time that George Huntington Hartford discovered a situation where Gilman’s family could take half of the company out right, by taking the company public as a corporation in New Jersey.
By going public in 1902, in the state of New Jersey, GHH avoided the large expenses of New York, and was also able to buy the Gilman families’ half of the company allowing for the Hartford’s to have full control of the company.
As time went on GHH began to give more control of A&P to his sons. Both sons urged their father to approve of an economy store that would sell cash and carry groceries without frills. In 1913 this resulted in the creation of the first A&P economy store in Jersey City, New Jersey. The store was so successful that the regular store next door went out of business in six months. By 1915 A&P had over five hundred stores and was making private label products for American favorites such as Cream of Wheat.
In 1915 GHH also ceded full control to his sons; placing George in charge of finance, and John as manager of business operations. The brothers were very successful shown by A&P’s growth to 16,000 stores in 1930.
Hartford also created his own tea called the Nectar that would prove to be the signature product of the The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
Gilman and Hartford would take damaged tea that cost relatively nothing, and would mix it together to create a black tea with a green tea taste that was considered by the public a specialty tea. In turn Hartford was then able to sell the Nectar for far less than the competitor’s special tea.
In the 1880s GHH revolutionized the food distribution industry in many ways besides the aforementioned private goods. The A&P came up with clever and unique ways to advertise their company. In the beginning advertising in church ads, Hartford and Gilman's advertising evolved into a system of rewards for customer loyalty. Beginning with coupons and eventually into stamp books redeemable for household appliances by the 1900s Hartford came up with new ways of advertising that are still used today.
The industrialization that accompanied the Gilded Age, specifically the development of the railway system, aided the Great American Tea Company's expansion. A&P pioneered the use of refrigerated railcars. This enabled A&P to transport fresh fruit and seafood to the Midwest.
Other companies quickly caught on to A&P strategies and realized that new advances in transportation could be incorporated into the business model.
Hartford’s innovations were also apparent in the methods A&P conducted its business after its large growth. A&P was always run like a small family business where no one was fired except for dishonesty or violence, and promotions exclusively took place from within the company. During the Great Chicago fire of 1871, Hartford sent food and workers to aid the city recover. This generosity continued into the later part of his life when he instituted a pension plan for his employees without pressure from the unions. The plan allowed for employees to invest in company stock that they could hold on to after they retired
A&P is on the New York Stock Exchange with the symbol GAP, and stores can be located in nine U.S. states. The stores fall under the names of A&P Waldbaum's, A&P Super Foodmart, The Food Emporium, Super Fresh, Farmer Jack, Sav-A-Center, and Food Basics.