Extra, Extra, Get Your New Banana!

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Eating Through Time Festival on October 17, 2015, a celebration of food, cookery, and health. View the full program and register for the Festival.

Among the many attractions at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 were the bananas. Wrapped in foil and sold for a dime each, they were a novelty for many Americans who had never seen them before.1

In the decades that followed the Exposition, the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) was responsible for introducing many more Americans to the fruit, promoting the banana in their literature, and distributing them throughout the country.

The story of the UFC begins in 1871, when cattle rancher Minor C. Keith first planted bananas alongside the tracks of the national railroad in Costa Rica. By the 1880s, Keith was the dominant banana trader in Central America. In the same decade, Lorenzo Dow Baker founded Boston Fruit, the first to import bananas in the U.S. Keith’s enterprise merged with Boston Fruit in 1899 to create the United Fruit Company.

During the next decade, United Fruit Company’s Great White Fleet, painted white to reflect the intense sun, carried bananas from Central America to the U.S. An increasing number of refrigerated train cars pushed bananas further inland, to places they had never gone before.

Beginning in the early 20th century, the United Fruit Company promoted the banana in a series of pamphlets and ads, taking it from a little-known novelty to a household staple. At the heart of their campaign was an endorsement of the fruit’s healthy properties. During the 1920s, the United Fruit Company hired doctors to extol the nutritional virtues of the fruit. In 1939, they offered free textbooks—decidedly pro-banana—to schoolchildren.2

The Academy Library has a number of historical pamphlets produced by the United Fruit Company and its distribution arm, The Fruit Dispatch Company. Here, we offer a selection of images from our collection.

“The Food Value of the Banana,” 1917, page 35.

“The Food Value of the Banana,” 1917, page 35.

In 1917 the United Fruit Company published “The Food Value of the Banana,” a collection of 15 opinion pieces touting the virtues of the banana as a nutritious snack. “Points about Bananas” concluded the volume.

The United Fruit Company’s test kitchens reported in 1924 that bananas with corn flakes and milk made the best breakfast for families.3 The company’s subsequent publications emphasized that bananas were powerfully healthy, especially for the very young.

“The Food Value of the Banana,” 1928.

Cover of “The Food Value of the Banana,” 1928.

The cover of the fourth edition of “The Food Value of the Banana,” published in 1928, features a rosy-cheeked and radiant little boy, banana in hand.

 “The Food Value of the Banana,” 1928, back cover.

“The Food Value of the Banana,” 1928, back cover.

The back cover of the same 1928 pamphlet explains the ideal time to consume a banana, and how it can be eaten in each phase of ripeness. Most bananas cycle from green to yellow to yellow with brown spots in seven days.4

Ad in Woman's Medical Journal, vol. 52 no. 6, June 1945.

Ad in Woman’s Medical Journal, vol. 52 no. 6, June 1945.

In the 1920s, UFC hired doctors to publicly recommend that babies should consume mashed bananas. Researcher Sidney Haas found that children diagnosed with celiac disease who had been given a diet of milk and bananas dramatically improved (of course bananas are gluten free, which may have had something to do with it).5 Here, an ad from the Women’s Medical Journal from 1945 (v.52, no.6).

“The New Banana,” 1931.

Cover of “The New Banana,” 1931.

From “The New Banana,” 1931.

From “The New Banana,” 1931. Click to enlarge.

The Fruit Dispatch Company’s 1931 newspaper-format pamphlet, “The New Banana,” tells stories in which the banana’s hero status is high. In one, a Norwegian hikes from Oslo to Christianssand. Nourished by the banana, “his strength increased from day-to-day!” In another, the banana sustains two transatlantic pilots (and fits compactly into the cockpit).

From “The New Banana,” 1931.

“The New Banana,” 1931, back cover.

The Scientific News section of “The New Banana” reminds parents of the considerable nutrients in the banana: vitamins A, B, and C, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It’s also “non-fattening” though not especially so when paired with bacon, as on the back cover.

Cover of “Serve Bananas in ‘Latest Style,’” 1940.

Cover of “Serve Bananas in ‘Latest Style,’” 1940.

The Fruit Dispatch Company published “Serve Bananas in ‘Latest Style’” in 1940 to introduce new banana recipes to American households. Recipes included “ham banana rolls with cheese sauce” and “banana fritters” as well as a “banana sweet potato casserole.” We’re charmed by the lady banana with the Elizabethan collar waving her napkin. She predates the United Fruit Company’s Chiquita Banana by four years.

Cover of

Cover of “Banana Salad Bazaar,”1940

“Banana Salad Bazaar,”1940, pages 2 and 3. Click to enlarge.

“Banana Salad Bazaar,” produced by the United Fruit Company’s Home Economics Department in 1940, is introduced by a sign-waving banana-man announcing “This Way to the Salad Bazaar.” Salad makers are encouraged to use fully ripe bananas (yellow peel flecked with brown). Recipes include banana gelatin salad and banana sardine boats.

From “Nutritive and Therapeutic Values of the Banana,” 1941.

From “Nutritive and Therapeutic Values of the Banana,” 1941.

1941 was a busy year for the UFC’s presses. Here, a chart from the second addendum to “Nutritive and Therapeutic Values of the Banana,” an annotated bibliography of recent research devoted to the fruit. The forward tells us that the banana pictured is a Gros Michel, or “Big Mike” banana, imported to the U.S. since the late 1890s. The “Big Mike” was larger, with a sturdier peel, and anecdotally more flavorful. By 1960 “Big Mikes” had been almost entirely eradicated by Panama disease. On American tables it was replaced by the Cavendish.6

From “Bananas...How to Serve Them,” 1941.

From “Bananas…How to Serve Them,” 1941.

This inset from “Bananas…How to Serve Them” (1941) illustrates the health benefits of bananas at every age. We learn that the Dionne quintuplets (b. 1934), the earliest quints to survive their infancy, ate bananas. Bananas are a “training table favorite” for athletes, and they appeal to the elderly as well because they are easy to chew and digest.

From “Bananas...How to Serve Them,” 1941.

From “Bananas…How to Serve Them,” 1941.

On the left, a sweet banana artist paints bananas at three stages of ripeness and explains how to prepare bananas for meals at each phase. On the right, encouragement for the housewife, with a promise of new banana recipes on the pages that followed. A monocled banana with a cane and top-hat below rips off Mr. Peanut, well-known to Americans since the early 1930s.

From “Chiquita Banana's Cookbook,

From “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” 1960, page 2.

Inspired by Carmen Miranda’s character in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, United Fruit Company introduced Chiquita Banana in 1944 (Miranda herself was frequently called, “chiquita” in her films). Dik Brown, creator of Hagar the Horrible, drew the first Chiquita; advertising execs composed her famous song.7 Here, a 1960 iteration of Chiquita graces “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook.”

Detail in “Chiquita Banana's Cookbook,

Detail in “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” 1960, page 3.

In “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” Chiquita offers ideas for decorating with bananas. Here, “fruit in a scoop” and a banana bouquet, in a pressed-glass stand.

From “Chiquita Banana's Cookbook,” 1960.

From “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” 1960, page 12.

Under consideration by Betty Draper and the Mad Men set: a triptych of bananas in “Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” prepared with three different garnishes: a currant jelly, a curry sauce, and mint jelly.

From “Chiquita Banana's Cookbook,” 1960. Click to enlarge.

“Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” 1960, pages 4-5. Click to enlarge.

 “Chiquita Banana's Cookbook,” 1960, pages 6-7. Click to enlarge.

“Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook,” 1960, pages 6-7. Click to enlarge.

“Chiquita Banana’s Cookbook” offers an adorable banana bunny and a banana skillet breakfast, as well as new recipes for shakes. “Drink a banana and feel better for it,” says Chiquita, and we believe her because she’s wearing that amazing hat.


1. Hooker, Richard J. Food and Drink in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1981.

2. Koeppel, Dan. Banana. The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. New York: Hudson Press, 2008.

3. Koeppel, 75.

4. Koeppel, xv.

5. Levinovitz, Alan. “The First Superfood.” Accessed September 1, 2015 at http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/04/the_first_superfood_doctors_believed_bananas_could_cure_celiac_disease.html

6. Koeppel, Dan. Banana. The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. New York: Hudson Street, 2008. xiv.

7. Koeppel, 117; 253.

Beyond the Pail: The Advent of a Hot School Lunch

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Eating Through Time Festival on October 17, 2015, a celebration of food, cookery, and health. View the full program and register for the Festival.

It’s winter in Minnesota, 1916. You have to walk six miles to school (uphill, both ways?). By the time you get there, your lunch is frozen. “In this condition,” explained Nellie Wing Farnsworth in the pamphlet The Rural School Lunch, “it is not very appetizing and it is not much better even if it has thawed out.”1

“Packing the luncheon.” In Sandwall, The School Lunch, c1920.

The Rural School Lunch, which focuses on schools in Minnesota in 1916, and The School Lunch, which focuses on schools in Massachusetts circa 1920, both describe the challenges of feeding rural students hot meals long before the advent of the National School Lunch Program in 1946.

As the pamphlets explain, students brought cold lunches from home. The nutritional value of those lunches was a concern, especially as lunch was often the main meal for farm families—one school children missed.1 In contrast, wrote Farnsworth, “Little thought or attention is given to the school lunch in many cases. When the pail or basket is opened it is found to contain cold pancakes, salt pork, cold potatoes, pie and bottles of cold tea or coffee. None of these foods is suited to the needs of the child and, as a rule, they all prove unpalatable and indigestible.”1

A selection of lunchboxes in Farnsworth, The Rural School Lunch, 1916 (top) and Sandwall, The School Lunch, c1920 (bottom).

A selection of lunchboxes in Farnsworth, The Rural School Lunch, 1916 (top) and Sandwall, The School Lunch, c1920 (bottom).

While some schools figured out ways to heat up lunches brought from home—in Wisconsin and elsewhere, students were encouraged to bring lunch in canning jars, which teachers placed in tubs of water atop the schools heater or stove—efforts to provide nutritious hot meals made at school took hold by the 1920s.2

Supplementing the box lunch with a hot dish, wrote The School Lunch author Alzira Wentworth Sandwall, had enormous benefits. Student table manners improved, students and teachers had a forum for conversation (“current events can be discussed and helpful conversation can be encouraged”), and nutrition education became part of the school day.3

“Hot lunch, Russell Mountain School, Hampden County.” In Sandwall, The School Lunch, c1920.

But perhaps most important was that student performance improved. Afternoon discipline became easier once students had enjoyed a nutritious meal. And students who appeared to be lost causes began to shine, like this child in Holyoke, Massachusetts:

One girl in the third grade was especially anemic, and was in the habit of falling asleep every afternoon. She became a regular patron of the canteen, and after two weeks she ceased to fall asleep. She was thought to be mentally deficient until the advent of the canteen, when she began to receive 100 per cent in some of her work.3

But how could schools provide hot meals to students? Programs across the country varied greatly, and only some had public funding.4 In most places, like the schools described by Sandwall and Farnsworth, hot lunches came about through donations of time and labor. Both pamphlets contain ideas for fundraising to pay for ingredients and utensils, such as food sales or a “shower”: a teacher selected utensils at a local store, asked women connected to the school to purchase them, and turned it into an afternoon party.1,3  And both have lists of recommended recipes, a large portion of them simple soups.

“Oil stove and cupboards improvised from packing boxes.” In Farnsworth, The Rural School Lunch, 1916.

Farnsworth goes into great detail on how to create food and utensil storage areas on a budget. She also breaks down the process of meal management, recommending teachers assign four “housekeepers” each week, boys and girls who will cook, serve, set the table, wash the dishes, clean the storage areas and stove, carry in the water, sweep the floors, and take out the garbage under teacher supervision.1

“Redding up.” In Farnsworth, The Rural School Lunch, 1916.

Providing a hot lunch required enormous effort on the part of teachers, students, and the surrounding community. But as Sandwall stated, “There are very few schools where it is absolutely impossible to serve at least one hot dish, and no better work can be done for the health of the school children than making it possible for every one of them to have a hot, nourishing luncheon.”3


1. Farnsworth NW. The rural school lunch. St. Paul: Webb publishing company,; 1916. Available at: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t9r21q72z;view=1up;seq=7. Accessed August 27, 2015.

2. Gunderson GW. National School Lunch Program (NSLP)| Early Programs by States. United States Dep Agric Food Nutr Serv. 2014. Available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history_2. Accessed August 26, 2015.

3. Sandwall AW. The School lunch /. s.n.,; 1920. Available at: https://archive.org/details/schoollunch00mass. Accessed August 27, 2015.

4. Levine S. School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 2008.

School Breakfast Week: “Take Time for School Breakfast”

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

Starting the day with a hearty, healthy breakfast allows your body to maintain the physical and mental agility needed to function without fatigue during the course of the day. Today, the Food Research and Action Center recognizes that “school breakfast participation is linked with increased food security, improved health outcomes, and numerous educational benefits, particularly for low-income children.”1

In 1790, Germany began the first school feeding program on record. In the early 1900s, the U.K. and several other European countries passed bills to enact school lunch programs. The following table shows the nutrition requirements for school children in Switzerland, Germany, and England circa 1900:2

Recommended nutritional requirements.2 Click to enlarge.

Recommended nutritional requirements.2 Click to enlarge.

The U.S. was late to follow, not passing legislation for a school lunch program until the 1940s. However, U.S. researchers had previously looked at the nutrition status of school aged children. In 1906, a Dr. Lechstecker in New York City examined 10,707 children and found that 439 had no breakfast and 998 had just coffee or coffee and bread. In 1908, of 10,090 children studied in Chicago, 825 suffered from malnutrition.2

In the 1940s, West Virginia surveyed students from various cities about their eating habits. They found that poor breakfasts were the biggest problem. By 1947 the state established the Good Breakfast for Every Man, Woman, and Child program with the slogan “Start the Day the Good Breakfast Way.”3

Some of the findings reported by West Virginia School Children’s Diet Study.3 Click to enlarge.

Some of the findings reported by West Virginia State Nutrition Committee.3 Click to enlarge.

In 1966, the Child Nutrition Act enacted The School Breakfast Program (SBP) as a pilot project. “During the first year of operation, the SBP served about 80,000 children at a federal cost of $573,000.”4 In fiscal year 2007, “the participating schools served . . . 1.7 billion breakfasts at a federal cost of $2.2 billion.”5 Current research shows that “10.8 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on an average day in school year 2012-2013, an increase of more than 310,000 children from the previous year.”6 And “for Fiscal Year 2012, the School Breakfast Program cost $3.3 billion, up from $1.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2005.”1

Today’s programs must meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, which provide evidence-based nutrition standards. The government will implement new guidelines in 2015 under the Federal Rule Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. “This rule requires most schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat- free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans-fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements.”7

ChooseMyPlateChoose MyPlate is an easy way for people to adhere to the dietary guidelines set out by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Dept. of Agriculture.

Breakfast is not just for school children. Remember to take time for breakfast no matter your age.


1. Hewins J, Burke, Mike. School Breakfast Scorecard: 2012-2013 School Year. Washington, DC: Food Research and Action Center (FRAC); 2014. http://frac.org/pdf/School_Breakfast_Scorecard_SY_2012_2013.pdf. Accessed January 31, 2014.

2. Bryant, Louise Stevens. School Feeding; Its History and Practice at Home and Abroad. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company; 1913. Access at: https://ia700505.us.archive.org/3/items/schoolfeedingits01brya/schoolfeedingits01brya.pdf

3. State of West Virginia. Start the Day the Good Breakfast Way: A Statewide Nutrition Program Sponsored by The West Virginia State Nutrition Committee September 1947-August 1948. State of West Virginia; 1948.

4. USDA Food and Nutrition Service website. http://www.fns.usda.gov/sbp/school-breakfast-program. Accessed February 10, 2014.

5. National Research Council. School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2010. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12751&page=1. Accessed on: January 31, 2014.

6. The School Breakfast Program:  Fact Sheet. Washington, DC:  USDA Food and Nutrition Service; http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SBPfactsheet.pdf. Accessed February 11, 2014.

7. Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Fed Regist. 2012;77(17):4088-4167. To be codified at 7 CFR §210 and 220. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-01-26/pdf/2012-1010.pdf. Accessed on: January 31, 2014.