English: Leaders of the worker strike that precipitated the Banana Massacre. From left to right: Pedro M. del Río, Bernardino Guerrero, Raúl Eduardo Mahecha, Nicanor Serrano and Erasmo Coronell. Photo was recovered from the United Fruit Company arch
Bananas may seem as wholesome as plants come, but behind that happy yellow peel lies a sinister history full of corruption, oppression, and death. Bananas are originally from Eastern Asia but made their way to the Americas in the 1500s and grew most bountiful in what is today Central and South America. For several hundred years, all was peaceful in the world of bananas, but by the 1800s, a sudden fascination with the fruit swept across North America. The banana solidified itself as a U.S. curiosity when it stole the spotlight at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, which is pretty impressive, seeing as Alexander Graham Bell was also there showing off the world’s first telephone.
By the end of the century, the banana business was booming and competition was fierce, so its heaviest hitters decided to band together to form the all-powerful United Fruit Company. This corporate behemoth quickly took over Central America, going so far as to build their own naval fleet called the Great White Fleet. They scooped up most of the farming land and, unsurprisingly for a company with so much power and so little regulation, took every opportunity to cut costs and control the supply chain, leaving their workers in the lurch. They worked around the clock, lived in poor conditions, and weren’t even paid in actual money, giving them little opportunity to explore other options.