United Fruit Company Photograph Collection, 1891–1962

Mss: 1 1891–1962 U860
78 boxes, approx. 10,400 photographs in 75 albums and 3 folders
Collection Guide

The United Fruit Company was founded in 1899 by the merger of the Boston Fruit Company and several other companies producing and marketing bananas from the Caribbean islands, Central America, and Colombia. By the early 1930s, the company had absorbed more than twenty rival firms making it the largest employer in Central America. United Fruit cleared and planted undeveloped tracts of land, created extensive railroad and port facilities, and operated a large steamship unit known as “The Great White Fleet.” The company came to own or lease properties in Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, and other countries of Central and South America and the West Indies.

This collection of 75 albums holds approximately 10,400 photographs, dating from 1891 to 1962, which illustrate the company’s extensive operations in Central and South America and the United States. Thousands of images depict planting, spraying, irrigation, and harvesting, as well as construction and operation of the company’s units and research laboratories, which produced bananas, sugar, abaca (for use as hemp), cacao, palm oil, cattle, and mahogany. Also recorded is evidence of hardships and damage suffered from floods, windstorms, and fire. These corporate documents capture a way of life in company towns and villages—from construction and running of railroads and wharves to daily scenes in company-built schools, hospitals, worker homes, and recreational facilities.