This is essentially the story of three Vaccaro brothers and a son-in-law of one, immigrants from Sicily and residents of New Orleans, and the business that grew around them. It begins with three shiploads of coconuts, oranges, plantains, and a few bananas imported from Honduras in 1899, continues through the creation of the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company announced in 1923, and concludes only with the absorption of that company by a larger entity in 1968. Standard Fruit receives here a treatment of its history probing well beyond that provided for its competitor United Fruit by Stacy May and Galo Plaza (1958).
Inevitably, a great deal of Honduran history is also provided. In addition, included are chapters on the attempts by Standard to run a profitable business in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti. These treat the Nicaraguan effort hard hit by the first generation of Sandinistas, that of Mexico which tangled with expropriation procedures of the social revolution there, and the venture in Haiti, both encouraged and discouraged by United States’ intervention. All of these lay at the margins of the company’s main activity, the importation of Honduran bananas.
The author, widely known for his study of Central America, The Failure of Union (1961), used as his chief source the records of the company over a period of fifty years. Interviews with company officials, Honduran and United States archives, and various newspapers (especially the New Orleans Times-Picayune) provided important information, particularly for the earlier years. Sometimes at variance with one another, these records of the past are handled with discretion and care.
The book, as one might expect under the circumstances of its composition, does not partake of the muck raking character of its 1930s forebears by Charles Kepner and Jay Soothill. Neither, however, are the directors of the company treated in heroic vein. They emerge instead as very able businessmen who did make mistakes and sometimes used the power available to them for their own financial advantage. A balanced historical study of the social aspects of the banana industry remains a desideratum.