Larry Tye at Cabinet Magazine:
The United Fruit Company was born over a bottle of rum. In 1870, Lorenzo Dow Baker, skipper of the Boston schooner Telegraph, pulled into Jamaica for a taste of the island’s famous distilled alcohol and a load of bamboo. While he was drinking, a local tradesman came by offering green bananas; Baker bought 160 bunches at twenty-five cents each. He resold them in New York for up to $3.25 a bunch, a deal so sweet he couldn’t resist doing it again. By 1885, eleven ships were flying under the banner of the new Boston Fruit Company, bringing to the United States ten million bunches of bananas a year. United Fruit was formed in 1899, with assets that included more than 210,000 acres of land across the Caribbean and Central America and enough political clout that Honduras, Costa Rica, and other countries in the region became known as “banana republics.”
The company also soon had a kingpin worthy of its swashbuckling history: Samuel Zemurray, better known as Sam the Banana Man.