Standard Fruit and Steamship Company

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Standard Fruit and Steamship Company

Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, a firm that grew out of Vaccaro Brothers and Company. The conversion of the latter to a public corporation—Standard Fruit and Steamship Company—in 1925, plus consistently high profits, provided sufficient capital for the firm to expand beyond Honduras, and to grow fruit or buy from producers in much of tropical America, including Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti, Cuba, and Ecuador. Most of its banana production was sold in the United States.

Honduras, the company's most reliable producer, originally lacked the infrastructure to support Standard's growth. Hence Standard pioneered in many related businesses, such as the manufacturing of paper, boxes, and beer; as Vaccaro Brothers, it built the first railroad, bank, and hospital in the land.

Although it was a public corporation, Standard continued to be managed by the Vaccaro and D'Antoni families until 1964. Family representatives always made their home in La Ceiba, Honduras, close to the banana farms; this personal stake meant that the company regularly directed much money and energy into research, seeking better soils and varieties of fruit, and new methods of combating the omnipresent and destructive Panama and Sigatoka diseases. Standard accomplished its greatest gain on the competition in the 1960s with the invention of a cardboard carton that could protect and keep cool a new variety of disease-resistant but easily bruised banana. This simple development thrust Standard into a position of marketing leadership and in time saved the entire industry from having to leave Central America.

From time to time Standard has owned and operated a fleet of banana freighters capable of carrying passengers on cruises. Since the 1960s economic conditions have dictated the leasing of ships and an end to the cruise business.

Standard has attempted to avoid involvement with local factions. Management has found it profitable to stay out of political affairs rather than attempt to manipulate them for the company's benefit.

The most serious business mistakes were the expensive and repeated efforts to grow bananas in the unsuitable soil found in much of Nicaragua; attempting to do business as usual in Mexico following the 1917 revolution; and battling (unsuccessfully) Haiti's preposterously small landholding patterns, thereby wiping out one of that nation's few viable industries.

Heirs of the Vaccaro and D'Antoni families eventually lost interest in the banana business; the last family chairman of the board, Joseph D'Antoni, was a physician who wanted to return to medical research and teaching. In 1964 the company was sold to Castle & Cooke, vast landowners in Hawaii and distributors of the best-selling brand of pineapple. Castle & Cooke poured millions into the merger and placed the Dole label on Standard's products.

See alsoBanana Industry; United Fruit Company.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

New Orleans Daily Picayune (1899–1913).

Claude W. Wardlaw and Laurence P. McGuire, Panama Disease of Bananas (1929).

Charles D. Kepner, Jr., and Jay H. Soothill, The Banana Empire (1935), esp. pp. 102, 112.

Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, Annual Reports; Thomas L. Karnes, Tropical Enterprise: The Standard Fruit and Steamship Company in Latin America (1978).

Tom Barry and Deb Preusch, The Central American Fact Book (1986), pp. 148-152.

Additional Bibliography

García Buchard, Ethel. Poder político, interés bananero e identidad nacional en Centro América: Un estudio comparativo: Costa Rica (1884–1938) y Honduras (1902–1958). Tegucigalpa: Editorial Universitaria, 1997.

Soluri, John. Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Striffler, Steve, and Mark Moberg. Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

                                      Thomas L. Karnes