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Call No.: Mss:1 1891-1901 B747
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Title: Boston Fruit Company records
Quantity: 3 linear feet (3 volumes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Records of the Boston, Mass. based banana importing firm Boston Fruit Company, 1891-1901.
For additional manuscript material relating to the United Fruit Company, see the Records of companies acquired by the United Fruit Company and the Henry Bradford Arthur Papers. For photographs of the United Fruit Company see the United Fruit Company Photograph Collection, United fruit Company lantern slides and the United Fruit Company photographs.
The Boston Fruit Company was founded through the efforts of Lorenzo Dow Baker andAndrew W. Preston. In 1870, Captain Baker of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, purchased acargo of bananas during a stop in Jamaica. Upon his arrival at the port of Jersey City,New Jersey, Baker quickly sold the entire shipment for a handsome profit. Confident thata market existed for this largely unknown product, Baker joined forces with Andrew W.Preston, who owned a small fruit commission business in Boston. Throughout the 1870s,Baker delivered shipments of bananas from Jamaica to Boston, and Preston distributedthe product. The demand for bananas grew exponentially throughout the decade.By 1882, the partners perceived the need for a more elaborate import business. With thehelp of several financial backers, Preston and Baker established the Boston FruitCompany in 1885. Baker oversaw the firm's operations in Jamaica, while Prestonmanaged the company from Boston and supervised its sales and delivery efforts. Duringthe 1890s, the firm developed a refrigerated distribution network. Boston Fruit Companyalso operated a large fleet of ships that carried its banana shipments from Jamaica toAmerican ports, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Mobile, and New Orleans.The firm's offices and docks were located at the Long Wharf on the Boston waterfront.In 1898, Minor Cooper Keith, who controlled extensive banana operations in Costa Ricaand Panama, approached Baker and Preston to propose a merger. The Bostonians agreedto join their efforts with Keith's, and a new firm, called the United Fruit Company, wasestablished in March 1899. The Boston firm's vessels became the nucleus of the UnitedFruit Company's famous "Great White Fleet," which delivered bananas throughout theworld .Andrew Preston became president of United Fruit Company, and held the post until hisdeath in 1924. United Fruit grew considerably during the early decades of the twentiethcentury. The company became a major Central American and Caribbean landowner. TheUnited Fruit Company played an influential and controversial role in the region's politicsthrough much of the twentieth century.
The collection contains three volumes of Boston Fruit Company records that date from1891 to 1901. The collection is not comprehensive; the three existing volumes probablyrepresent only a fragment ofthe company's records for the period. However, the volumesdo provide an instructive glimpse at the Boston Fruit Company's operations and financesduring the 1890s.