Banana History

Conflict arose over bananas in North America caused by the push for popularity & the simultaneous importation efforts by two men in different places.

Before 1870, bananas were completely unknown in the United States. However, almost simultaneously, the action of two men in separate locations, were to make bananas a popular dinner table staple within a few short years.

In 1870, a Massachusetts sea captain from Cape Cod, Lorenzo Dow Baker, arrived at Port Antonio, Jamaica in his schooner. Baker noticed what to him was a curiosity at a food market there. It was a strange looking long and yellow fruit with a funny name---"banana." Curious as to the marketability of this new fruit, Baker bought 160 unripe bunches and brought them back with him to New Jersey where he sold the bananas to eager fruit merchants for $2.00 per bunch, giving Baker a tidy profit. This was the beginning of a banana empire that Captain Baker was to help found.

Meanwhile, at almost exactly the same time, Minor Keith, a 23 year-old from Brooklyn, New York, was building a railroad in Costa Rica. As construction continued on the railroad, Keith planted bananas on land near the railroad tracks. Upon completion of this Costa Rican railroad, the bananas were shipped by train to port, making it an economically feasible product for export to North America.

Because of the efforts of both Baker and Keith, bananas were soon to become an extremely popular food on the tables of North Americans. Ten years after their separate ventures in the banana business, Baker and Keith joined forces along with Boston businessman, Andrew Preston, to form the Boston Fruit Company. In 1899 there was another merger with Boston Fruit becoming the famous United Fruit Company. United Fruit became the largest banana company in the world with plantations throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. To honor the fruit that made it wealthy, the capital of the United Fruit Company empire in Guatemala was named Bananera. United Fruit grew so powerful that it in effect controlled the governments of several countries including Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Due to the fact that bananas were so new to North Americans when it first arrived, they had to be instructed in the proper manner of eating bananas. A Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information of the 1870s gave these banana eating instructions: "Bananas are eaten raw, either alone or cut in slices with sugar and cream, or wine and orange juice. They are also roasted, fried or boiled, and are made into fritters, preserves, and marmalades."

One of the reasons for the popularity of bananas early in the 20th century was that it was the only fruit, along with oranges, which could be found in the smaller markets during the winter months. By the 1920s the consumption of bananas had grown to the point that it could be found in almost every worker's dinner pail or school child's lunch box. Since that time bananas have sustained its popularity as the most popular fruit eaten, at over 24 pounds per capita, in North America.

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