Making A Difference: The United Fruit Company Collection at the Harvard Business School

by | Jan 1, 2009

Photo of a worker with a five-foot bunch of bananas over his right shoulder and a long pole over his left shoulder. Columbia, 1924

Handling bananas, backing the bunch, Colombia, 1924. Photo courtesy of Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School

Baker Library Historical Collections at Harvard Business School has extensive photographic collections documenting a range of companies and activities. Perhaps the most significant collection is the United Fruit Company Photograph Collection. Donated to Harvard Business School in 1979 by the United Brands Company, the United Fruit Collection consists of seventy-five photograph albums that illustrate the company’s extensive operations in Central and South America and the United States. The photographs were taken between 1891 and 1962, with the majority dating from the 1920s through the 1950s. The albums contain approximately 10,400 photographs that vary in size from 3 x 5 inches to 9 x 11 inches. Most of the photographs are accompanied by brief captions that describe their content.

Thousands of photographs depict the operations of the company including agricultural operations, construction, and research activities. The company’s many units produced bananas, sugar, abaca (for use as hemp), cacao, palm oil, cattle and mahogany. Planting, spraying, irrigation, harvesting the crops, the construction and running of railroads, and the building of the wharves are all documented in these photos. Also recorded is evidence of hardships and damage suffered from floods, windstorms and fire. This photograph collection also offers deep insights into the daily life in the company towns and villages, both for the workers and the managers. Images of students in the company schools, doctors, nurses and patients in the company hospitals, shoppers in the company stores and shots of the workers’ baseball teams and the managers’ tennis courts capture a way of life and are valuable documents in understanding the social and cultural history of this region.

The United Fruit Company Photograph Collection is one of the few archival collections on this significant company available to researchers and as a result is the most heavily consulted photographic collection. We welcome research requests for the United Fruit Collection. Please contact the Baker Library Historical Collections reference and research team at histcollref@hbs.edu for further information on the collection and access to these materials.

Winter 2009Volume XIII, Number 2

Laura Linard is Director of Baker Library Historical Collections at Harvard Business School.

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