George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman entered the mail-order tea business in 1859. They started out at 31 Vesey Street in New York City under the name of The Great American Tea Company. They were successful, and decided to change their name in 1870 to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. In 1880, two notable things happened. First, Hartford’s sons, John and George, came into the family business. Second, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company began marketing its first private label brands, including Eight O’Clock Coffee. by 1900, They boasted over twenty stores in their chain.
In 1912, they expanded again by opening the first A&P Economy Store. These economy stores were usually manned by no more than one or two people. In 1930, A&P reached it's peak number of economy stores with the aforementioned 15,000 in operation. In 1939, the chain began a wholeheartedly move toward the new newer trend of supermarkets, operating 1100 supermarkets and closing over half of the older “economy stores”. By 1940, A&P reduced its number of stores to just over 6000 while increasing its sales by more than half. Continuing on this successful trend, A&P had reduced its number of stores to just over 4500 by 1949, and continued to see greatly increased sales.