New Orleans: Gateway to the Americas

Bananas, ca. 1910

Bananas imported from Latin America made fortunes in New Orleans and contributed substantially to the establishment of hemispheric relations. By mid-twentieth century, twenty to twenty-five per cent of all the bananas imported into the United States came across the docks at New Orleans. Two rival fruit importers dominated the scene: New Orleans-based Standard Fruit, founded by the Vaccaro brothers and Salvador D'Antoni, and the giant United Fruit, which established its southern headquarters in New Orleans. From the turn of the century, when banana imports first began to flow through the port of New Orleans, until the late 1960s, when Standard Fruit moved its operations to Gulfport, the banana trade provided one of New Orleans' strongest commercial ties to Latin America.

Besides providing hundreds of jobs in the Crescent City, the banana wharves were also something of a tourist attraction in the first half of the twentieth century, as this post card collage of the docks suggests. The WPA's Louisiana: A Guide to the State, published in 1941, says, "For sightseeing value, the river front is second only to the French Quarter," and lists "BANANA UNLOADING, at the Thalia Street Wharf, where the United Fruit Company unloads a large share of the 23,000,000 stems brought into New Orleans yearly" among its "chief points of interest" along the water front.

[Louisiana Postcard Collection]

At the turn of the century the banana industry was born with the inauguration of companies handling the importation of this single commodity into this country. From the importation of this fruit to satisfy the growing palate of people for it arose some of the greatest shipping syndicates in the history of commerce. Fleets of ships, especially equipped to carry the fruit as speedily as possible from its natural habitat to this country, were constructed to take care of the growing importation of the Latin American fruit. From these ships, plowing the waters between the two Americas, grew up a lively tourist trade and an understanding and friendship between the United States and its neighbors.

[Ford, Frank. "Yes We Have No Bananas." New Orleans Port Record, November 1942]

Introduction | Aguardiente de caña, 1770 | Imports, 1822 | Price-Current, 1845 | Minatitlan, 1852 | Steamships, 1854
Cotton Exposition, 1884 | The Logical Point, 1885 | El Nopal, 1885 | Bananas, ca. 1919 | Mercurio, 1913
Cuyamel Fruit, 1917 | La Voz Latina, 1936 | Del Sud, 1938 | deLesseps S. Morrison, 1946
International House, 1950 | Garden of the Americas, 1957 | International Trade Mart, 1964
Coffee, 1965 | Victor H. Schiro, 1965