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United Fruit Company - the Trend

The Banana Importation Trend in the United States

Great White Fleet ship unloading bananas
Unloading bananas at the old terminal

In the 1920s and 1930s, the largest shipmentsof bananas arrived in the United States through the ports of New Orleans and New York. Combined, these two ports imported an estimated 14,000,000 bunches in 1935. Other east coast ports, such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and Mobile, each averaged about 3,500,000 bunches for the same year. Los Angeles averaged 1,536,000 bunches, and San Francisco represented the west coast importation market with 1,350,000 bunches.

Banana Trade Routes
Banana Trade Routes (pre-WWII)
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Between 1936 and 1937, food products taken as a whole accounted for 10% of all cargoes passing through the Port of Los Angeles. During that same time, wood and paper products and nonmetallic minerals made up 64% of all inbound cargoes. Ports in New York and New Orleans handled greater volumes of bananas because United Fruit and Standard Fruit located their largest facilities in those cities. Also, these ports were larger, could handle greater volumes of bananas, and were closer to inland transportation networks as well as importers and distributors.

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During the World War II period of declined shipping, most banana imports arrived in the United States through limited shipments of Mexican fruit trucked in through Texas and New Mexico. However, by 1966, that had completely changed, with ocean shipping accounting for 99% of all banana imports to the United States. The remaining 1% arrived through limited shipments of Mexican fruit trucked in through Texas and New Mexico. Although bananas arrived in the United States at 25 to 30 different points, less than 10 ports handled 90% of all the shipments. Five ports of entry into the United States constituted major banana ports. These were New Orleans, New York, Baltimore, Florida, and Los Angeles. Between 1946 and 1964, the Port of New Orleans handled about 29% of bananas imported into the United States. During that same period, New York imported approximately 20%, and Florida ports averaged about 12%. The Port of Los Angeles, one of two banana ports on the west coast, averaged 6%. San Francisco's importation numbers were generally less than 6%.

Refrigerated carriers, designed specifically for bananas, currently transport the fruit from tropical countries to the United States and Europe. Specialized receiving facilities are no longer needed to offload bananas as they are now handled as containerized cargo at standard container terminals (like most other consumer commodities). Central and South America and Asia make up nearly 85% of world banana production. Africa produces most of the remainder. (View modern photos of Berth 147.)