The United Fruit Historical Society



Chronology

This table summarizes the most relevant events in the history of the United Fruit Company or events that affected the environment where the company operated


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1848 Jan. 19.Minor Copper Keith is born in Brooklyn, New York
1870 Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker buys 160 bunches of bananas in Jamaica for a shilling per bunch and sells them in Jersey City for $2 each. After this success he and the Bostonian entrepreneur Andrew Preston join efforts to develop a banana market in Boston.
1871 Keith travels to Costa Rica to work on a railroad project his uncle Henry Meiggs was building for the national government
1873 Keith, when looking for cheap food for his workers, plants banana trees adjacent to his railroad tracks.
1874 Extremely difficult working conditions pay a high toll on Keith's workers. Nearly 5,000 men die, including Meiggs. Keith takes charge of the project.
1877 Samuel Zmurri is born in Besarabia, Russia. When immigrating to the United States he changes his name to Samuel Zemurray.
1885 Baker and Preston establish the Boston Fruit Company as Americans increase their demand for fruit. Preston takes charge of tropical enterprises while Baker controls management in Boston.
1890 After facing incredible difficulties, Keith finishes the railroad from San Jose to Puerto Limon. However, the low number of passengers using the train made it unprofitable. Keith decides to use it to export bananas from the plantations he had created in the early 1870s. The first shipments proves to be a great success.
1892 Young Samuel Zemurray arrives to the United States from Besarabia. He settles with his family in Selma, Alabama
1895 Zemurray enters in the banana business marketing the fruit in Mobile, Alabama
1897 Keith purchases a 50% of the share in the Snyder Banana Co. which produces bananas on 6,000 acres at Bocas del Toro, Panama.
1898 April-December: Spanish-American war. The United States defeats Spain and occupies Cuba and Puerto Rico.
1899

Keith's bank, Hoadley and Company, goes bankrupted. Keith loses $1.5 million. In order to solve his difficult financial situation, Keith goes to Boston and arranges with Andrew Preston a merger of his company and the Boston Fruit Company. Prior to the negotiation Preston, Baker, and Keith control 75% of the banana market in the U.S. In March 30th, they establish the United Fruit Company.

April. The newly already incorporated United Fruit Company acquires seven independent companies that have been operating in Honduras.

The Sicilian immigrant Joseph, Luca, and Felix Vaccaro and Salvador D'Antoni begin importing bananas to New Orleans from La Ceiba, Honduras.

1900 The Vaccaro Brothers import 6,000 stems of bananas into New Orleans beginning a successful banana import business independent from United Fruit.
1901 The government of Guatemala hires United Fruit Company to manage the country's national post service.

Elders & Fyffes Co. is established in Great Britain with the purpose of shipping and distributing of Jamaican bananas within the United Kingdom. With British government support, the company becomes a formidable competitor.
1902 The Hubbard-Zemurray Company is established in New Orleans.
1903

After a series of weather catastrophes and financial problems, plus strong competition from United Fruit, the directors of Elders & Fyffes decide to sell part of its stock to the American company. United Fruit eventually acquires 50% of Elders & Fyffes stock opening and opens a door to the European market.

The plant disease known as "Panama Disease" appears for the first time in United Fruit's plantations in Panama. The disease attacks the plant's trees roots cutting off the water supply. Thousands of acres of banana plantations had to be abandoned.

United Fruit launches the S.S. Venus, the first refrigerated produce boat.

November. Separatist groups in the Colombian state of Panama declare independence. The US government, in support of the separatists, sends part of its Navy to prevent the Colombian government from recovering the state. As soon as Panama's independence is assured, the US obtains sovereignty of a strip of land in which it plans on building an interoceanic canal.

United States troops intervene in Honduras.

United States troops intervene in the Dominican Republic.

1904 Guatemalan dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera grants United Fruit a ninety-nine year concession to construct and maintain the country's main rail line from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios
1905 Zemurray goes to Honduras to study the possibility of creating his own banana export corporation.
1906

United Fruit purchases 50% of the shares of the Vaccaro Brothers Company which had operated in Honduras. Vaccaro had organized export plantations in that country as part of a contract to build a railway between La Ceiba and the interior of the country.

The United States Army invades Cuba. The American occupation government remains until 1909.

The Vaccaro Brothers incorporate their banana import business in New Orleans.

1907 United States troops invade Nicaragua and establish a protectorate in the country.

United States troops land in Honduras during the war with Nicaragua.
1908 Through the Anti-trust legislation the American government forces United Fruit to sell its Vaccaro shares.
1909 The United States Army invades Nicaragua.
1910

With a loan of two thousand dollars Zemurray buys five thousand acres along the Cuyamel River in Honduras to establish plantations. Soon after Zemurray purchases the land, he discovers that the Honduran President, Miguel Davila, would not grant him the tax, land, and transportation concessions that he was seeking. With this disappointment in mind, Zemurray decides to organize and finance a military coup that would replace Davila with Manuel Bonilla. Slipping past US agents sent by Secretary of State Philander C. Knox, Zemurray's expedition sails from New Orleans. The expedition is composed of one small ship captained by Lee Christmas and Guy "Machine Gun" Molony and one box of arms. Within weeks after Christmas and Molony arrive at the port of Trujillo, the government falls and Davila is replaced by Bonilla. The new President awards Zemurray generously and grants him the contracts he needs to incorporate the Hubbard-Zemurray Company in Honduras. The new company would soon become a serious competitor to United Fruit..

United Fruit buys the remaining Elders & Fyffes stock. Elders & Fyffes acquires 8,000 acres of banana lands in the Canary Islands.

The "Panama Disease" appears in the banana plantations of Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

1911 The Hubbard-Zemurray Company changes its name to Cuyamel Fruit Company
1912 Keith's Guatemala Railroad Company becomes The International Railways of Central America (IRCA)

After a fierce price competition against the United Fruit Company, the Atlantic Fruit Company declares bankrupcy. Atlantic had been United Fruit main competitor in Costa Rica; after the bankruptcy United Fruit takes control of the country's banana exports.

The United States Army sends troops to Cuba.

The United States marines land in Panama during the presidential elections.

The United States Army intervenes in Honduras.
1913

United Fruit gets two railway and land concessions in Honduras. They are managed by the company's subsidiaries the Tela Railroad Company and the Truxillo Railroad Company. These concessions allow the company to begin to produce bananas in large scale in Honduras. Concessions include 162,000 hectares of land from which 71,000 were granted in change of the railroad construction.

The Senate Finance Committee of the United States includes bananas in the proposed Underwood-Simmons Tariff. Bananas would be taxed at five cents a bunch. This initiative faces strong opposition from the New York Times, the Tariff Reform Committee of the Reform Club, The Banana Buyers' Protective Association, and the Housewives' League. The lobby made by these organizations eventually succeeds and the US government permits the tax free import of bananas to continue.

1914 The United States Navy fights against rebels in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The United States Army invades Haiti.
1915

Zemurray's company becomes United Fruit biggest competitor.

Standard Fruit buys most of the ice factories in New Orleans. The ice was needed to refrigerate the banana ships. After this, the company's president Joseph Vaccaro became known as the "Ice King."

The United States Army invades Haiti.

1916 The United States Army invades the Dominican Republic.
1917

The United States Army invades Cuba. The American occupation lasts until 1933.

The US War Trade Board proposes a complete embargo on bananas in order to free the United Fruit and Standard Fruit ships for military purposes. The embargo plan was eventually dropped.

1918 The workers of the banana plantations in Northern Colombia go on strike. They demand six-day labor week and eight-hour labor day plus health care. The strike does not succeed.

The United States Army intervenes in Panama and keeps a police force in the country.
1919 The United States marines land in Honduras during presidential campaign.
1920 The United States Army lands in Guatemala and fights for two weeks against the so-called unionists.
1922 Improvements in banana-drying technology encourage United Fruit to promote consumption of dried banana chips. The company wanted to use this as a way to market discarded bananas or plantains.
1923 The song "Yes, We Have No Bananas" by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn reaches incredibly high levels of popularity, selling 25,000 copies a day. Afterwards, Silver tours the country with his Banana Band.
1924

The Vaccaro Brothers re-organize their old company and establish the Standard Fruit Company

November 7. The Guatemalan government gives a concession to the United Fruit for all the uncultivated lands in a 100 kilometers territory.

Dr. Sidney Haas makes it public that bananas are a good cure for children suffering from celiac disease. United Fruit used this finding to promote banana consumption in the following decades.

United Fruit subsidiary Fruit Dispatch Company publishes a recipe book promoting the consumption of bananas with dry cereal, suggesting in particular corn flakes with bananas and milk. This combination proved to be an incredible success among consumers. In the following years cereal companies made deals with United Fruit to advertise this new breakfast. One of them was to include a coupon for bananas in cereal boxes.

The United States Army intervenes in Honduras during elections.

1925 The United States Army lands in Panama during a general strike.
1926 The Vaccaros change their company from Standard Fruit Company into the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company.
1927 The Guatemalan government establishes a $14,000 annual rent for the 100 kilometers it gave to United Fruit in 1924.

United Fruit purchases the California-Guatemala Fruit Corporation which exported fruit from the Guatemalan Pacific Coast to Western USA
1928

The workers of the banana plantations in Colombia go on strike in December. They demand written contracts, eight-hour days, six-day weeks and the elimination of food coupons. The strike turns into the largest labor movement ever witnessed in the country and radical members of the Liberal Party and members of the Socialist and Communist Parties participate strongly. The national labor union bigwigs Carlos Mahecha and Maria Cano traveled to the banana zone to organize the strike. They counted with the help of Italian and Spanish anarchist immigrants for this.

 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is born in Aracataca, a town in the banana zone of Magdalena, Colombia.

1929

January (Colombia). The banana worker strike continues and gets national attention since it is supported by the Liberal Party. The Conservative Party, which controls the government, decides to send the Army into the Banana Zone. During a demonstration in the main plaza of the city of Cienaga the Army, commanded by Carlos Cortes Vargas fires on the strikers and leaves an undetermined (and disputed) number of strikers dead. The government declares a state of siege in the Banana Zone and the strike eventually ends. One Liberal politician, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan denounces the government's action at the National Congress, on the radio, and public speeches. Gaitan's denounciations help undermine the Conservative Party's reputation and the party is defeated in the next year's election.


May 1st (Honduras): The Communist Party creates the Federacion Obrera HondureÐa. This federation creates "Action Committees" among the banana workers.

November: After an unsuccessful price war against Zemurray's Cuyamel Fruit Company, United Fruit decides to buy Zemurray out. United Fruit sells Zemurray $31,500,000 in the company's stocks in exchange for all Cuyamel stock. Zemurray becomes the biggest shareholder of United Fruit.

United Fruit's subsidiary, Fruit Dispatch, hires a group of consultants to do a market research on American banana consumption. The consultants' results says that bananas were consumed by a large sector of the country's middle class and were considered the perfect food for babies. After this report, United Fruit doubled Fruit Dispatch's advertisement budget and begins an aggressive campaign in national newspapers and magazines targeted to middle class families.

Fruit Dispatch establishes the Education Department in addition to the Advertising Department. The Education Department prints educational materials for classroom use promoting banana consumption.

1930 Louisiana's governor Huey Long denounces Samuel Zemurray in the U.S. Senate for being involved in corrupted businesses in Central America

July (Honduras): The Action Committees of the Federacion Obrera HondureÐa organize a strike in the banana plantations. The strike has little support from the workers and is cracked down easily.
1931 April (Honduras): The government declares martial law on the north coast after workers attack military barracks at Trujillo and Tela. The rebellion is orchestrated by former Secretary of War General Gregorio Ferrera.

June (Honduras): Ferrera's rebellion ends with his dead in a skirmish with Government troops.
1932 The United Fruit transfers its railroad in Colombia to the national government which, in turn, leases it to the company for thirty years more.

Honduras: Labor unrest among United Fruit workers follow the company's decision to fire 800 workers.
Guatemala: Juan Pablo Wainwright, leader of the 1930 banana workers' strike in Honduras, is assassinated.

The United States Navy intervenes in the Marti Revolt, El Salvador.
1933 During the first years of the Great Depression the shares' price of United Fruit fall dramatically and its profits decrease from $44.6 million in 1932 to 6.2 in 1932. The members of the board of directors vote to name Zemurray general director of the company. Two weeks later the price of the company's stock doubles. Zemurray's first move is to replace the existing tropical managers with experienced managers and former employees of Cuyamel. He also improves transport and intra-company communication while reorganizing the company with a clear hierarchy of employeespecialization.

During the 1930s Zemurray uses his fortune in several philanthropic works such as a large donation to the New Orleans Child Guidance Clinic and financial backing of The Nation magazine
1934 Anastasio Somoza takes power in Nicaragua. His family continues to rule until the late 1970s.
1935 An epidemy of Sigatoka (a fungus that attacks the leaves of the banana plant and causes the fruit to ripen prematurely) appears in Standard Fruit's Honduras plantations and threatens to wipe out the entire crop. The companies begin large-scale spraying programs. The first experiments with Bourdeaux mixture (made up of copper sulfate, hydrated lime, and water) prove to be successful at controlling the disease but extremely expensive.
1936 United Fruit Company signs an ninety-nine year concession with Guatemala President General Jorge Ubico and opens its second plantation in the country in the region of Tiquisate.
1937 United Fruit merges with Minor Keith's International Railways of Central America (IRCA)
1939 United Fruit's Home Economics Department publishes the school teacher manual entitled "A Study of the Banana: The Everyday Use and Food Value." The manual gave a detailed description of the food value of bananas and gave suggestions of preparation. The success of this manual led the company to publish other school manuals in the following years for elementary to high-school students.
1942 Samuel Zemurray, President of the United Fruit, establishes the Escuela Agricola Panamericana in Honduras. The institution is intended to be a free higher-education school financed by the company specialized in agricultural research, and attended by Central American students.
1942-45 During World War II United Fruit reduces its operations to the minimum level because of the presence of German submarines in the Caribbean.
1944 United Fruit hires cartoonist Dik Browne (the creator of Hagar the Horrible) to create a cartoon based on the Latin American singer and movie star Carmen Miranda. The cartoon was baptized as Miss Chiquita Banana and was part of the advirtisement campaign the company was preparing for when the war was over.
1945

Juan Jose Arevalo takes power as the new President of Guatemala. He pushes United Fruit to improve the working conditions at its plantations. The company makes some concessions after a series of strikes from its workers.

The character of Miss Chiquita Banana debuts in the technicolor movie advertisement "Miss Chiquita Banana's Beauty Treatment" in which she sings to revive an exhausted houwewife.

1947 The Guatemalan government establishes a Labor Code. The company denounces it as "Communistic" and threatens to leave Guatemala. The code forces the company to make further concessions to the workers in the strikes that followed.
1948 Samuel Zemurray lets one of the company's ships to participate in the settlement of Jews in Palestine after the war. The ship was re-baptized with the name of Exodus and carried the first wave of Jewish immigrants to the Middle East
1949 Senators Claude Pepper (Florida), Alexander Wiley (Wisconsin), and Mike Mansfield (Montana) accuse the Guatemalan government of failing to safeguard United Fruit's businesses in that country.

January (Honduras): After being the dictator of Honduras for thirteen years, President Juan Vicente CarÕas voluntarily gives the presidency to his vice-President and former lawyer of United Fruit, Juan Manuel Galvez. Galvez restores guarantees to political exiles and begins social reforms. Many exiles return to the country and this reinforces his opposition. Yet even under Galvez, the left-wing newspapers kept criticizing the governmental concessions given to United Fruit.

Honduras: During Galvez's government the Honduran Congress passes labor regulations for children and women and establishes an eight-hour working day. This is a monumental change in Honduras' labor laws.
1950 Nobel-awarded Chilean writer Pablo Neruda publishes his epic work "Canto General" about the history of Latin America. One of its chapters is entitled "The United Fruit Company."
1951 Jacobo Arbenz wins the Presidential election in Guatemala and promises to change the agrarian structure of the country.
1952 The Guatemalan Congress approves the Decree 900, the Agrarian Reform Act.
1953 Using the Agrarian Reform Act Arbenz government declares that 209,842 acres of uncultivated lands of United Fruit should be expropriated and distributed to landless peasants. The Guatemalan government promises the company an indemnification of $627,572 in governmental bonds. The value of this indemnification was based on the company's declared tax value of the land. During this year Zemurray hires a public relations company to begin an aggressive campaign against Arbenz in the American media.

Standard Fruit introduces the first experimental plantings and shipments of the Panama Disease resistant Cavendish-type banana. This type eventually adapted by United Fruit to replace the Gross Michel type in the 1960s.
1954

GUATEMALA:
April 20. United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sends a protest note to Arbenz declaring that the idemnification value calculated by the Guatemalan government was not fair. Arbenz, however, continued with his Agrarian Reform Program. Dulles calls John Peurifoy, the American ambassador in Guatemala, to get detailed information of the Guatemalan situation. Peurifoy said to the Congress that Guatemala was spreading "Marxist tentacles" in Central America.

Zemurray approves the publication of a book called "Report on Guatemala" which claimed that Arbenz Agrarian Reform had been planned in Moscow. The book was distributed to Congressmen

March. The Conference of the Organization of American States in Caracas finishes with a resolution in which the member countries show their concern about the "Communistic infiltration" in the continent.

May: Arbenz proposes a non-aggression treaty to Honduras. The Honduras government refuses.

June, 18. Using military bases in Nicaragua Guatemalan Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas attacks Guatemala in what his supporters called "the Liberation war against Communism." The operation was backed by all the other Central American governments and the United States. Castillo succeeded at forcing Arbenz to go on exile and immediately ended the legal actions against United Fruit under the Agrarian Reform Law. Twenty-five year old Argentinean Ernesto Guevara (later known as el "Che") witnesses the coup and becomes convinced that radical changes in Latin America are only possible through an armed revolution. Guevara is living in Guatemala at the time working as a doctor and book-seller and he volunteers to organize resistance militias against Castillo's army. When facing an inevitable defeat he later escapes from Guatemala to Mexico where he meets another political refugee who will become one of his closest friends: Cuban Fidel Castro.

July 2. A US Court begins legal action against the United Fruit Company for violating the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the Wilson Act.

July 13. United States President Dwight Eisenhower gives official recognition to Castillo's government.

July 19. Castillo establishes the National Committee of Defense Against Communism to seek out any remaining of Arbenz supporters. He also sets back the labor laws created under Arbenz government.

Arbenz begins his long exile in Mexico, France, Switzerland, Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Uruguay, and Mexico.

HONDURAS:
May 5. The workers of the United Fruit Company go on strike demanding higher wages and are followed by the Standard Fruit workers. This strike paralyzes all banana operations and peaks with 25,000 striking workers (around 15% of all the country's labor force)

May 7: United Fruit manager J. F. Aycock declares that the company would not negotiate as long as the workers are on strike. That day, the strike expands to La Ceiba, Standard Fruit center of operations. Contrary to United Fruit, Standard offers to negotiate with striking workers.

By the second week of May 11,000 Standard Fruit Company employees join the strike. Simultaneously, laborers in others sector of the economy go on strike too, including miners, brewers, and textile workers.

May 16: The strikers present their "pliego de peticiones" to manager Aycock in La Lima. They quote the Universal Declarations of the Rights of Man and demand an increase in wages. At the same time, the workers of Coca-Cola in La Ceiba and Puerto Cortes strike.

Shortly after the protests began, the Honduran President Manuel Galvez expels two Guatemalan consuls charging them of instigation.

May 9. The American ambassador in Honduras says that the country's strike had been inspired by Guatemalan communists. In addition, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles suggests that Guatemala Arbenz's government might be behind the Honduran strike.

May 18: Standard Fruit opens negotiations with the workers under governmental arbitration. The company agrees to increase wages and improve working conditions, making this the first time in Honduran history that a private corporation negotiates a collective agreement. The workers committed themselves to go back to work on May 21.

May 21: After the Standard Fruit workers go back to work, the United Fruit workers harden their position. The number of strikers increases to 100,000 United Fruit.

May 25: A governmental commission arrives to La Lima and is accepted as an intermediate by both the workers and management of United Fruit.

May 31: Breakdown in the talks between United Fruit and the strikers.

June 5: The workers try to create a new delegation to negotiate, but United Fruit tells the Honduran media its opposition to further negotiations. In the weeks to follow the strikers' peaceful attitude win them the sympathy of the Honduran media, politicians, and even Henry Wallace, a former US Vice-President.

July 9. The banana workers' strike in Honduras ends. Although the strikers do not manage to get what they initially wanted, the company does change the working conditions and the government is forced to create a more progressive labor legislation. The workers demanded a wage increase of 72% but only won a 21% raise. The company also agrees to provide medical care for the workers' families.

A hurricane hits the Honduran plantations and United Fruit fires 10,000 workers

1955

Between 1955 and 1962 United Fruit published around 15 million pieces of literature for students in elementary grades through high school to promote the learning of bananas and the health benefits of their consumption. These manuals were also distributed in schools around the world.

 

1956

The Senate's Select Committee on Small Business, undertakes a investigation of "the problems of small business" and calls on United Fruit to testify on its commercial distribution of bananas within the US. The State Department immediately requests that the Senate hearings be closed to the public and press. It explains that "distorted or sensational reporting of these hearings in the Latin American press might reflect unfavorably on a large American company having extensive operations in the area, and might easily be used by the Communists for propaganda purposes to damage the prestige of the United States." Several days later, however, the State Department finds "nothing objectionable" and allows the release of the transcripts to the press.

 

1958 The US government's anti-trust against the company is finally settled. The United Fruit Company agrees to sign a consent decrees that allows the company to admit to no wrongdoing but still allows the government to force several important changes to the structure of the company. The largest change facing the company is that it has to carve out a competitor, from its own holding, by 1970, will be one third of its current size. It begins by selling its Guatemala holdings to both Standard Fruit and to Guatemalan entrepreneurs. United Fruit also sells Meloripe and Banana Selling Corporation, its two large American fruit distributing subsidiaries, to private banana jobbing firms. The lawsuit, at least symbolically, marks the decline of the fruit company.

United Fruit does, however, expand its business in other directions by acquiring the rights to explore petroleum and natural gas in Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador.

November. Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba after a successful guerrilla war against President Fulgencio Batista. Batista leaves the country.
1959

Fidel Castro begins his agrarian reform and seizes the sugar properties of United Fruit in that country.

Thomas Sunderland becomes the new President of the United Fruit Company. His main goals are to reduce cost and effectively handle the changes brought about by the increased competition of the Standard Fruit Company and the Ecuadorian corporations. He also has to handle the drastic changes following the consent decree. Sunderland begins to promote the larger sized Cavendish banana over the Gros Michel, and the company begins to transport the bananas in cardboard boxes instead of free bunches. He also pushes the Chiquita brand-name by having labels placed on the bananas.

The second half of the 1950s witnesses a process of divestiture of the company. Slowly, the company has removed itself from directly growing bananas on its plantations and has concentrated on marketing its bananas.

A lawsuit against the United Fruit Company is filed in a New York state court. The court rules that the fruit company had forced its partly owned subsidiary, International Railways of Central America (IRCA), into setting prices that had only favored its own banana transportation. The prices had been set too low, harming IRCA and its American shareholders. A verdict is passed in 1959 and United Fruit has to pay $4.5 million in damages to IRCA's shareholders.

1960 Nov. 2. The first serious strike of the banana workers in Panama. The workers of the Bocas del Toro Division demand higher wages and better working conditions. Shortly after they are joined by the Armuelles workers. The strikers paralyze all the export activities for two months. United Fruit gives recognition to the elected union leaders as the workers' legitimate representatives.
1961 A group of Cuban exiles unsuccessfully attempts to invade Cuba and depose Fidel Castro.
1962

United Fruit provides American school teachers with a package that included student lesson sheets on bananas and the Central American countries, a folder of banana recipes, a wall chart, a sound motion picture, a film-strip, and an eight-page teacher's manual on how to get and use these aids. This educational material was recommended for geography, history, social studies, health and nutrition, elementary and general science and biology classes. The kit had a cost of $4.

United Fruit creates the individual banana sticker label. The small blue stickers with the Chiquita logo are affixed to the fruit and the company makes a strong advertisement campaign to promote the consumption of its branded banana.

Colombian writer Alvaro Cepeda Samudio publishes his novel "La Casa Grande" inspired in the banana workers strike of 1929 in Magdalena, Colombia.

1963

Herbert Cornuelle becomes the new President of the United Fruit Company. He begins a process of diversification of United Fruit's investments in order to reduce its dependence on bananas. During this process the company acquires A&W Root Beer Company, Foster Grant.

Fulton City, Kentucky, celebrates the first International Banana Festival sponsored by Standard Fruit and Dole (with no participation of United Fruit), and declares itself the Banana Capital of the United States. The festival includes cultural and artistic expressions of banana exporting countries, a carnival and a beauty contest (the International Banana Princess). The event is praised by President Kennedy and President Johnson as an important manifestation of friendship among the peoples of the Americas and counted on the active help of the Alliance for Progress.

1964 Castle and Cook buys the Vaccaro family (owner of Standard Fruit).
1965 The United States Army sends troops to the Dominican Republic during its election campaign.
1966

AMK, originally a producer of milk-bottle caps, acquires a third of the common shares of John Morrell & Company, a meat packer. By the end of that year, AMK acquires John Morrell completely. AMK's President Eli Black begins an aggressive campaign to dominate the American food market.

United Fruit builds a banana puree factory in Honduras in order to find a market for discarded bananas. The factory has a limited success in the following years, and has to wait until the 1980s to see acceptable results. Banana puree is used in ice-creams, eggnog, and yogurt.

1967

After its acquisition of the West Indies Fruit Company, Del Monte Corporation enters in the international banana business.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez publishes the first edition of "Cien AÐos de Soledad" (One Hundred Years of Solitude) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Part of the novel is inspired on the strike of the Colombian banana workers against United Fruit in 1929.

Castle & Cooke Corporation wholly acquires the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company.

United Fruit distributes 90,000 full-color illustrated recipe cards for Chiquita banana and peanut butter sandwiches to schools in the United States, promoting these sandwiches for lunch.

1968
1969 Sept. 24. Eli Black makes the third largest transaction in Wall Street history up to that moment by buying 733,000 shares of United Fruit in a single day. Black becomes the largest shareholder of the company.
1970

United Fruit chairman John Fox and Eli Black negotiate the merger of United Fruit and AMK-John Morrell. After negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission they merger and name themselves United Brands Company in June 30th. The company reports operation losses of two million dollars. Black cuts the research expenses.

Aldicarb, an insecticide to control mites and nematodes is introduced in the market by Rhone-Poulenc. This chemical proved to cause headache, stomach problems, blurred vision, and disorientation among the workers who worked with it.

1971 January 27. Jacobo Arbenz dies in exile in Mexico City at the age of fifty-eight.

United Brands reports a loss of 24 million dollars; the highest in its history

December: Alleging violations of the Sherman Acthe U.S government orders United Brands to divest themselves of a banana-producing division capable of 9 million stems . The company sells the division Compania Agricola de Guatemala, to West Indies Co. (a Del Monte subsidiary)
1972

In an attempt to pay its high debts United Brands begins to sell several of the conglomerate's companies and tropical land assets.

An earthquake destroyes the capital city of Nicaragua, Managua. Black organizes a United Brands sponsored aid to the victims.

The Black Sigatoka fungus attacks the leaves of the Cavendish plantations in Honduras.

1973

Black manages $16 million in profits this year giving the hope of recovery for the company.

March: For the first time in history, Dole moves to the first place in United States sales ahead of United Brands, with 45% of the market, versus 35% for United Brnads.

1974 March: The governments of Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama sign the Panama Agreement which imposes banana export taxes of $1 per 40 pound box. United Brands considers this new tax unfair and confronts the local governments.

July-September: Workers in the United Brands Company go on strike and refuse to export bananas from Panama unless the local government ends its consideration to nationalize the company's Panama assets. This means an interruption of 45% of the total of Panama's exports.

September 17. The governments of Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama form the Union de Paises Exportadores de Banano (UPEB) -Organization of Banana Export Countries- to defend the interests of the member countries, raise and maintain high prices, and adopt common policies. United Brands threatenes unsuccessfully to pull out. Ecuador, the world's largest producer, decides not to join the organization.

September 18. Hurricane Fifi destroys 70% of company's plantations in Honduras and causes losses of more than $20 million. The hurricane decreases the country's annual exports from 45.4 million boxes in 1973 to 35.3 in 1974, and 20.4 million in 1975.

Black organized relief teams to help the victims of Fifi. Financial losses are not recovered.

United Brands' subsidiary John Morrell reports losses of $6 million. The total losses of United Brands that year are $70 million.

In a new attempt to alleviate the company's troubles, Black sells on December Foster Grant for almost $70 million. The operation is considered to be a great success
1975

February 3. Black commits suicide by jumping from his office in Panam building in New York. The investigations following his death reveal a bribery scandal in which Black and United Brands are involved. In April the SEC accused United Brands of bribing the President of Honduras, Osvaldo Lopez Arellano with $1.25 million, with the promise of another $1.25 million later, in exchange for a reduction in the export taxes Honduras committed under the light of UPEB rules. The investigation also reveals that during Black's presidency United Brands had bribed European officials for $750,000. The trade of United Brands stock is halted for almost a week, and some shareholders bring lawsuits against the company. In the meantime, the Honduran Army removes the President on suspicion of participating in the bribe, despite Lopez allegations of innocence. The scandal also rushes the Costa Rican President to threaten United Brands with a cancellation of all contracts if the company did not reveal all the names of local officials involved in bribes. Finally, a federal grand jury brings criminal charges against United Brands in the United States.

May. Wallace Booth, chairman of United Brands Company succeeds in a series of reforms that include tightening management control, streamlining banana delivery systems, and updating meat-packing technology at John Morrell.

The conversion from Gros Michel to Cavendish is completed in all Latin American plantations, with the exception of some area in Northern Ecuador grown for domestic consumption.

1976 Carl Lindner, one of the biggest investors of the company, becomes the new President.

January. A federal judge grants SEC permanent access to United Brands records to avoid further violations of the law from this company.

April. United Brands sells 190 miles of railroad track to the Honduran government for $0.50 and then leases it back for $250,000 a year. It also commits itself to the maintenance and operation of the railroad line.
1978 United Brands admits that it had paid a bribe of $2.5 million to the former Honduran minister of economy, Abraham Bennaton Ramos. The company is fined with $15,000 and the case is closed.
1979

The United States bans the use of dibromochloropropane (DBCP) for the effects it has on human health. DBCP had been developed by Dow Chemical and Shell Oil as a pesticide to kill nematodes (microscopic worms that feed on the roots of banana trees). DBCP had used widely in the Central American plantations since the 1960s and caused damages in the banana workers' testicles. Although prohibited in the United States this pesticide continued being used in the banana-producing countries.

R.J. Reynolds purchases Del Monte.

1982

Lindner increases dramatically his stake in the company.

Black Sigatoka begins to spread from Honduras to all over Central America in this decade.

1983

Strong storms in Panama and Costa Rica damage the banana crops. United Brands faces this loss at the same time it was dealing with strong losses of John Morrell.

United Brands loses ground sharing only a third of the banana market. The other two thirds were in hands of Del Monte and Standard Fruit.

The Unites States Army invades Grenada.

1984 August. Lindner takes over as chairman of United Brands. He transforms the company from its large, diversified operations into a company with a narrower focus. He works to stabilize profits.
1985

With a new team of directors Lindner doubles the company's cash flow from 1985 to 1988. Lindner sells some of the company's operations, such as soft drinks, animal feeds, and international telecommunications. He moves the company's headquarters from New York to Cincinnati.

Lindner widens the use of the name "Chiquita" to other fruits such as grapefruits and pineapples. He manages to recapture the first place in banana trade from Dole.

David Murdock buys Castle and Cook (the owner of Standard Fruit) and re-names the new company as Dole Corporation. Dole had business in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and elaborated food, besides bananas.

1986 The workers of John Morrell meat packing houses in the United States go on strike. The conflict is settled in one year.
1987

Black Sigatoka fungus reaches Ecuador.

The Central American banana growers spend this year $100 million to control Black Sigatoka.

1988 John Morrell workers sue the company claiming that they were not paid for work involving safety equipment that they were required to perform on their own time. The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration levies a fine of $4.3 million.
1989

Lindner decides to change the name of the company from United Brands Company into Chiquita Brands International Incorporated. He justified this by saying that popular name recognition would help the whole conglomerate.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends the ban of Aldicarb, a chemical to control mites and nematodes, in banana plantations for the bad effects this insecticide had on people's health. Aldicarb, however, is not banned.

The United States Army invades Panama and arrests President Manuel Noriega.

1990

The collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe brings hopes to the different banana companies of a larger market. Chiquita begins to invest in buying land again, after a long process of divestiture that began in the 1950s.

Chiquita recovers the number one place of the banana companies (33% of the world's market share), followed by Dole (22%).

Dole reports that 40% of its food division profits came from banana sales.

1991 The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that a few bananas imported to the US were tainted with Aldicarb (a pesticide with proven hazzardous health effects). Although there were no reports of possible health effects due to eating bananas with Aldicarb the manufacturer, Rhone-Poulenc withdraws the product from the market for use on bananas. Aldicarb had been withdrawn from potatoes already, but remained in use in citrus, soybeans, coffee beans, sweet potatoes, sugar beets, pecans, tobacco, cotton, and alfalfa seeds.
1992 Fulton City, Kentucky, celebrates the last International Banana Festival. The decision to kill the festival was because of a decreasing interest by the participating countries, the US government, the banana companies, and the local community.
1993

A Texas court settles out a multimillion dollar suit filed against several American companies by thousands of Costa Rican banana workers in the 1980s who claimed that they had been made sterile by exposure to DBCP, an insecticide.

Facing the possibility of an international boycott on bananas because of the damage certain pesticides caused to the workers, the Costa Rican government and the multinational corporations begin research on pest-resistant and more enviromentally-friendly banana varieties. This initiative is promoted by the Banana Amigo Project and sponsored by the US-based Rainforest Alliance and the Costa Rican Fundacion Ambio and Tsuli Tsuli/Adubon.

The European Union establishes a quota system for banana imports giving preference to those produced in their former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. The Latin American growers face tariffs and no quota in their exports to Europe. The European Union argues that without this policy the banana export industry of its former colonies would collapse.

1994 Given that Chiquita does not have any investment in the the former European colonies' producing areas, the company accuses the European Union quota policy as unfair. Senator Robert Dole says in the U.S. Senate that the European initiative was going against the most basic rules of free market and proposed retaliation. During his presidential campaign against President Bill Clinton, Senator Dole receives a $155,000 contribution from Chiquita and uses a company's airplane for his campaign tour around the United States
1995 NBC television show "A Word from Our Sponsor" includes "Chiquita Banana" among the all-time top-ten advertising jingles.
1998

May: The Cincinnati Enquirer publishes a series of articles written by Mike Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter exposing Chiquita's questionable business practices that included bribery, abusive corporate control in Honduras and Colombia, the use of harmful pesticides, and repressive actions against workers. Chiquita's shareholders sue the company, and Chiquita sues the newspaper claiming that the reporters illegally obtained voice-mail tapes. The Enquirer was forced in court to fire the reporters and to apologyze to Chiquita. The company, however, never challenged the facts reported by Gallagher and McWhirter.

November: The United States protests at the World Trade Organization against the new European policy around bananas, and threatens to slap 100% tariffs on several European products unless the European Union stops its preferential treatment for Caribbean, African, and Pacific producers. The European Union claims that the American demand does not make sense because its policies did not affect a single American job. European Union's trade commissioner, sir Leon Brittan claims that the sanctions are product of the strong lobby of Chiquita and Dole.

November: Hurricane Mitch destroys 90% of the entire banana industry of Honduras. At the time, Honduras was the fourth largest banana producer in the world. Chiquita lays off 7,400 of its workers, but promises to continue providing the workers with medical insurance, housing, utility service, two months of financial assistance, and interest-free loans. Dole contributes with shipments of food and medicine.

1999

March: Beef joins the banana war when the European Union bans the imports of genetically modified beef from the United States. The American government threatens with more sanctions adding more fire to an already heated debate. The World Trade Organization finds the European decision unlawful and sides with the US.

April 7: The World Trade Organization determines that American commercial interests had suffered losses of $191.4 million in each of the years the European Union regime had existed, making a total of $1 billion harm. The European Union refuses to bring its system into the World Trade Organization conformity and suffers American retaliation in the form of sanctions against European businesses directly involved in the banana conflict.

In spite of the WTO rule, the European Union refuses to change the quota system. Sir Leon Brittan, EU's trade commissioner, insists again that the whole conflict is orchestrated by Chiquita and Dole who paid important politicians to lobby on their favor. US Trade Representative, Charlenne Bershefsky, claims that EU's policies will hurt poor countries like Honduras or Nicaragua more than the multinational corporations. Bershefsky says that the US government is losing its patience and might impose economic sanctions to Europe.

 

2000 The United States imposes economic sanctions to Europe as part of the banana war. The sanctions meant heavy tariffs to luxury goods imported from Europe at the cost of $191.4 million.
2001

April 11: The European Union and the United States settle their differences and end with the banana war. United States drops the economic sanctions and the Europeans drop their first-come-first-served import system and replace it for a transitional system that will lead to a tariff-only system in 2006. Under the agreement, EU import licenses will be allotted based on the way they were distributed during a 'historical reference period' of 1994-1996. The European Commission will also initiate the necessary procedures to propose to the EU Council of Ministers an adjustment to expand access for Latin American bananas and to secure a market share for a specific quantity of bananas of ACP (African, Caribbean, and Pacific) origin.

The final agreement between the US and the EU is praised by Chiquita who had sued the European Commission for US$525 million in damages it said it had suffered due to EU banana restrictions. The agreement, however, faced the opposition of Ecuador and Dole who saw this as an arrangement to assure Chiquita a fixed market share in the protectionist European market. Ecuador threatens to protest at the World Trade Organization.

 


This table was prepared by Marcelo Bucheli in colaboration with Ian Read. The sources used can be found in the Bibliography plus Lisa Mirabile (ed), International Directory of Company Histories (London: St. James Press, 1990) and John Ingham (ed), Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983)

© marcelo bucheli, 2001

© ian read, 2001

© united fruit historical society, 2001