Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:1 1891-1962 U860

United Fruit Company Photograph Collection

The collection consists of seventy-five photograph albums that document the United Fruit Company’s operations and holdings in Central and South America, the West Indies, and the United States.

Dates

  • 1891-1962 (inclusive)
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1960

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edu for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying prohibited. The photograph albums must be handled very carefully to ensure that the photographs are not separated from their captions.

Extent

85 linear feet (110 boxes)

The collection consists of seventy-five photograph albums that document the United Fruit Company’s operations in Central and South America, the West Indies, and the United States. The photographs were taken between 1891 and 1962, with the majority dating from the 1920s through the 1950s. The albums contain approximately 10,400 photographs that vary in size from 3 x 5 inches to 9 x 11 inches. Most of the photographs are accompanied by brief captions that describe their content.

The photographs depict agricultural operations, construction, and research activities undertaken by the company’s many operating units. These units produced bananas, sugar, abaca (for use as hemp), cacao, palm oil, cattle, and mahogany. The operational activities illustrated include planting, spraying, irrigation, and harvesting. Photographs also depict the construction and running of railroads, the building of wharves, company towns, schools, hospitals, and recreational facilities. The photographs also include images of the damage cause to company properties by hurricanes, floods, windstorms, fires, and other natural disasters.

Historical Note:

The United Fruit Company was formed in 1899 when the Boston Fruit Company merged with several other companies that produced, imported, and marketed bananas from the Caribbean islands, Central America, and Colombia. The principal founder was Minor C. Keith, who developed banana plantations in Costa Rica beginning in the 1870s. During the early decades of the twentieth century, United Fruit’s distribution networks spread throughout the United States and Europe. By 1930, the company had absorbed more than twenty rival firms and was the largest employer in Central America.

From its founding, the United Fruit Company acquired large, undeveloped tracts of land made available to it by Caribbean and Central and South American governments. The company cleared and planted these lands and developed extensive railroad and port facilities. It also built employee housing, schools for the children of employees, hospitals, and research laboratories. United Fruit’s laboratories worked to develop disease-resistant crops, insecticides, and fungicides. The company operated a large fleet of steamships painted white to protect their cargo from the tropical sun. This “Great White Fleet” transported United Fruit’s products to the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The United Fruit Company ultimately owned or leased property in Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, and numerous other Central American, South American, and the West Indian countries. It engaged in the production, transportation, and marketing of bananas, sugar, cocoa, abaca, and other tropical products.

In 1970, the United Fruit Company merged with AMK Corporation; the new corporation was called the United Brands Company. The company became Chiquita Brands International in 1990.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. Mexico and Central America, 1891-1957
  2. Series II. South America, 1922-1957
  3. Series III. West Indies, 1919-1962
  4. Series IV. British Cameroons and Elders & Fyffes, 1913-1951
  5. Series V. United States, ca. 1910-1957
  6. Series VI. Crops, 1942-1960
  7. Series VII. Spraying and Irrigation, 1935-1957
  8. Series VIII. Facilities, 1939-1950
  9. Series IX. Recreation & Miscellaneous, 1916-1927

Provenance:

Gift of United Brands Company, 1979.

Digitized Images:

A growing number of photographs from the United Fruit Company Photograph Collection are available through, Harvard Library's Hollis Images. Specific albums have been completely digitized and links to those albums are provided in the finding aid.

Related Materials

The Henry B. Arthur papers contain information on Latin America agribusiness and additional photographs of the United Fruit Company.

See also the Boston Fruit Company records and the Records of companies acquired by the United Fruit Company.

Processing Information

Processed: May 1999

By: Maggie Hale
Processing Note: The collection was rehoused in the spring of 1999 as part of the Historical Collections manuscript photograph project. Each album was placed in a flat, acid-free box. A number of larger albums were divided in half and placed in two boxes. The albums were arranged in nine series based on geographic location or subject.

The existing finding aid—an inventory produced in 1979 when the collection was donated to Baker Library—was considerably revised and expanded. The current box inventory listed below reflects the numbers assigned to the new boxes. A key linking the former box locations with the new box numbering system is available if required. Please ask the reference staff for assistance.
Link to catalog
Title
United Fruit Company Photograph Collection, 1891-1962 (inclusive), 1920-1960 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Author
Baker Library
EAD ID
bak00103

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

Contact:
Baker Library | Bloomberg Center
Soldiers Field Road
Boston MA 01263 USA
(617) 495-6411