Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Going Bananas at the State Library

The Story of the Banana United Fruit Company
Educational Department, 1936

While the State Library’s current exhibit explores the history of agriculture in Massachusetts by highlighting the more traditional crops of the state such as apples and cranberries, it is a lesser known agricultural fact that Boston, Massachusetts was also once the center of the tropical banana trade.  While cataloging the library collections, I stumbled upon numerous items about America’s (and my) favorite fruit—the banana.  So why does the library have so many items on bananas? The answer is found in the history of the United Fruit Company, which donated a number of books on the banana trade to the State Library’s collection during its domination of the worldwide banana import business from 1899 to 1970. United Fruit Company was based in Boston from 1899 to 1933 when it moved its headquarters to New Orleans.  Today, we know United Fruit by its newer and more familiar name of Chiquita Brands International. Then, as now, the popularity of the banana (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat an average of 25 pounds of bananas a year!) remains unchanged for its convenient mess-free eating on the go and its affordability and year-round availability. Peel on!

About Bananas United Fruit Company, Educational Department, 1931;
The Story of the Banana United Fruit Company, Educational Department, 1921; and
The Banana: its History, Cultivation and Place Among Staple Foods,
by Philip Keep Raynolds, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services