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A Short History of the Banana Industry for Railfans

Until the advent of mechanically refrigerated railroad cars, Fulton, Kentucky, was a major distribution point for most of the bananas sold in the eastern United States. Bananas were loaded into "ice reefers" belonging to the Fruit Growers Express Company in New Orleans and shipped northward until they reached Fulton. At that point the cars needed to have a fresh supply of block ice to prevent spoilage. At Fulton, the long Fruit Growers Express (FGE) trains were also broken down and shipped north by the Illinois Central Railroad and east by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

A national mass consumption of bananas was possible because of the production and distribution network made by the Boston-based United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) and, at a lesser extent, by the New Orleans-based Standard Fruit and Steamship Company (now Dole). In the early years of the twentieth-century, these companies created an impressive network that included plantations in Central America, railways, steamships, telegraph lines, hospital, schools, harbors, and a distribution system in the US.

Imports of bananas went from around one million tons per year in 1920 to almost two million tons in 1960. Per capita consumption is around 17 pounds per year. The US imported 3.9 million tons in 1999.

At Freeport, TX banana trade with Central and South America is growing thanks to regular weekly calls by Dole Fresh Fruit and Chiquita.

In 1990, Chiquita had 33% of the banana market and Dole 22%. Dole makes 40% of its food division profits from banana sales.

The West Indies Shipping Company, a subsidiary of Del Monte Corporation, began bringing banana imports through the Port of Galveston in 1969.

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