World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Samuel Zemurray

Samuel Zemurray (nicknamed "Sam the Banana Man"; born January 18, 1877 in Kishinev, Bessarabia, Russian Empire, present-day Chişinău, Moldova; died November 30, 1961 in New Orleans, Louisiana) was a U.S. businessman who made his fortune in the banana trade. He founded the Cuyamel Fruit Company, and later became head of the United Fruit Company, the world's most influential fruit company at the time.[1] Both companies played highly controversial roles in the history of several Latin American countries and had a significant influence on their economic and political development.


Zemurray's birth name was Schmuel Zmurri. He was born in Kishinev, Bessarabia, Russian Empire (present-day Chişinău, Moldova,) to a poor Jewish family that emigrated to America when he was 14. Zemurray had no formal education. He settled in Selma, Alabama, where his uncle owned a store, and where he encountered bananas for the first time. He entered the banana trade in Mobile, Alabama in 1895, at the age 18. His early wealth was largely due to a very successful venture in New Orleans, Louisiana. Before Zemurray, the bananas that ripened in the transport ships were discarded upon arrival at the port, because they could not be delivered to market quickly enough to avoid spoilage. Zemurray bought the ripe bananas very cheaply and sold them locally and along the rail lines to grocers. His success earned him the nickname "Sam the Banana Man."[2] By age 21, he had banked $100,000. He later bought a steamship and went to Honduras. In 1910, he bought 5,000 acres (20 km²) of land along the Cuyamel River. He later added more land and found himself heavily in debt.

At the time, the governments of Honduras and Nicaragua were working to reschedule their sovereign debt. United States Secretary of State Philander C. Knox was involved in the negotiations, which would have agents of bankers J.P. Morgan and Company sitting in the countries' customs offices to collect the taxes needed to repay the debt. Zemurray feared that he would be taxed out of business and appealed to Knox for help. Knox spurned him, so Zemurray returned to New Orleans, where deposed Honduran president Manuel Bonilla was living in exile. Zemurray contracted two mercenaries, Guy "Machine Gun" Molony and Lee Christmas, who along with Bonilla devised a plan to overthrow the Honduras government. Zemurray smuggled Bonilla back to Honduras, along with a ship full of powerful weapons, and Bonilla was successfully returned to power in a military coup. Bonilla then granted Zemurray the land concessions and low taxes that saved his business.

In 1930, Zemurray sold his company, Cuyamel Fruit, to the rival United Fruit Company[1] of Boston, Massachusetts, for $31.5 million in stock, and retired. United Fruit suffered financially because of mismanagement and the Great Depression, so much so that its stock declined in value by 90% after it acquired Cuyamel.[3] This encouraged Zemurray to return to the banana business by buying a controlling share of United Fruit and voting out the board of directors. Zemurray reorganized the company, decentralized decision-making and made the company profitable once more.

In 1953, The U.S. State Department and United Fruit embarked on a major public relations campaign to convince the American people and the rest of the U.S. government that Colonel Jacobo Arbenz intended to make Guatemala a Soviet "satellite." Zemurray authorized Edward Bernays to launch a propaganda campaign against Col. Arbenz's democratically-elected government, which intended to expropriate some of the unused land owned by the United Fruit Co. and redistribute them to the local peasants. In 1954, the campaign succeeded and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency helped orchestrate a coup that replaced Arbenz with a military junta led by Col. Carlos Castillo Armas.[3]

Zemurray retired as president of United Fruit in late 1954. He and his family made generous donations to

Zemurray died in New Orleans in 1961, where he had lived for most of his life. His daughter, Doris Zemurray Stone, an archaeologist and ethnographer, served as the director of the National Museum of Costa Rica and endowed various professorial chairs in U.S. universities.

See also

Biography portal



  • Peter Chapman. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. New York, NY: Cannongate, 2008.
  • The Associated Press. "Samuel Zemurray, 84, Is Dead; Headed United Fruit Company." The New York Times. December 2, 1961.
  • Thomas P. McCann. On the Inside. Beverly, Massachusetts: Quinlan Press, 1987.
  • Chaim Weizmann (1949). Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. Jewish Publication Society of America.
  • Maggie Heyn Richardson, "Banana Man", Imagine Louisiana magazine, summer 2007.
  • Stephen Kinzer. Overthrow. New York, NY: Times Books, 2006.
  • Rich Cohen. The Fish That Ate the Whale. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012.

External links

  • "America's Gone Bananas: Here's How It Happened," by NPR Staff, June 2, 2012
  • Biography of Samuel Zemurray in the United Fruit Historical Society website by Marcelo Bucheli
  • Steven Heller in Salon on Sam Zemurray and United Fruit
  • Zemurray on
  • Zamorano

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.