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Samuel Zemurray – banana magnate
 
Samuel Zemurray  was born in Kishinev, the Bessarabian governate, then part of the Russian Empire, in a poor Jewish family of David Zmura and Sarah Blausman. In 1892 the family emigrated to the United States, first to new York, and then to Alabama.
 
Sam did not attend the school - from early childhood he had to earn his living. His business acumen showed in his teen years, when he started independently selling fruit from a cart. His business was doing great.
 
In 1899 he opened his own chain of fruit stands in Mobile, Alabama, selling mostly bananas. And in 1900, with his partner Ashbell Hubbard of the United Fruit Company, Sam bought two steamboats and started importing bananas from plantations in Honduras.  By age 21, he had banked $100,000. 
 
In 1910 the partners reached another level, buying 5000 acres of banana plantations in Honduras and founded the Cuyamel Fruit Company. Zemurray, who had already earned the nickname "Sam the Banana Man" by that time, became the president of the company.
 
It was then when Zemurray got into politics. After Washington supported Morgan Bank in a conflict with Cuymel, Sam helped subsidize a coup in Honduras, and the country's new President and Parliament cancelled concessions for Western banks and eased the trade restrictions.
 
Later Zemurray managed to get the government of another "banana republic", Costa Rica, to create 3000 acres of banana plantations in the country, as well as to build railroads, wharfs and warehouses for bananas.
 
In 1930, Zemurray sold his company, Cuyamel Fruit, to the rival United Fruit Company 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.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.
 
Zemurray retired in 1951, and became a philanthropist. He created the agricultural  school Escuela Agrícola Panamericana, the society for preserving Maya historical sites in Central America, and the Lancitilla botanical garden in Honduras.
 
He also founded the Center for Maya culture studies and the Institute for Central America studies, the New Orleans Child Guidance Clinic, and financed thr liberal "The Nation". One of Louisiana's airports was also named after him.
 
Zemurray's daughter, Doris Zemurray-Stone was a prominent American archeologist and ethnologist, and even held the post of the director of the National museum of Costa Rica. 
 
Sam Zemurray died at the age of 84 in his house in New Orleans, where he had lived for most of his life. His mansion was donated to Tulane University.
 
 
Sources:
Mario Argueta. Bananos y politica: Samuel Zemurray y la Cuyamel Fruit Company en Honduras. Honduras Editorial Universitaria
"America's Gone Bananas: Here's How It Happened," by NPR Staff, June 2, 2012
Thomas P. McCann. On the Inside. Beverly, Massachusetts: Quinlan Press, 1987
Rich Cohen. The Fish That Ate the Whale. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012.

 


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