Bananas at the World’s Fair

Bananas did not naturally grow in the United States. They originated likely in Malaysia, spread to the Indian valley and cultivated by the Chinese. War spread them to northern Africa, where the crop crossed with several native species and split off into many varieties. Portuguese explorers brought bananas from Africa to Europe somewhere around the 16th century, where they was cultivated and domesticated for human consumption. In America, however, the banana would remain virtually unknown until an introduction at the Centennial Exposition, the World’s Fair in Philadelphia.

On this day, June 5, in 1876 the exotic yellow fruit was introduced to visitors of the exposition in the United States. Bananas were still considered a delicacy, selling for 10 cents apiece, often wrapped in tinfoil and eaten with a knife and fork.

By the 20th century the fates of Central and South America would become intertwined with that of the banana. The United Fruit Company, the largest banana producer in the United States, took over broad swaths of land and through various financial and political finagling all but colonized the region. The term “banana republic” referring to a country that is dependent on one resource (be it bananas or minerals or oil), came around at the time.