Ca. 1910s. Album: Oblong Folio (ca. 28,5x37,5 cm); 49 card stock leaves; Collection of 120 large original gelatin silver photographs ca. 19x24,5 cm (ca. 7 ½ x 9 ½ in) or slightly smaller; 99 photos are mounted in the album and 21 are loose. About a hundred photos are numbered in negative; four photos are captioned in negative in English or Spanish; two photos are signed “Wimmer” in negative. Five photos with period pencil or ink manuscript captions in English on versos. Period black full cloth binding; paper label of “Libreria Lehmann, San Jose, Costa Rica” on the inner side of the front cover. Binding rubbed and slightly loosened on hinges, one photo with two round holes on the upper margin for hanging, a few mounts with minor tears not affecting the images, a few images mildly faded or with mild silvering, but overall a very good collection and strong interesting images.
Rare historically significant collection of 120 large photos showing the early years of the United Fruit Company’s banana plantation business in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama and the adjacent region of Costa Rica. Founded in 1899, the American-owned United Fruit Company (the Chiquita Brands International since 1984) rapidly expanded through the Caribbean and Central and South America in the early 20th-century and turned into an empire with its own railways and roads, bridges and canals, steamships and towns for its workers. The Company dominated the trade and transportation in several Central American countries (Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica) and orchestrated their internal policy, which led to the creation of the phenomenon of the neocolonial “banana republics.” Our collection, most likely assembled by an American employee of the company, gives an accurate illustration of the life and work at the UFCO’s banana plantations in Panama and Costa Rica during their flourishing years. The album dates back to the 1910s, i.e. before the spread of the “Panama disease” of the banana plants which destroyed about 8000 hectares of Costa Rica and Atlantic Panama plantations in the 1920s and led to the abandonment of the Almirante division in 1926 (Marquardt, S. “Green Havoc”: Panama Disease, Environmental Change, and Labor Process in the Central American Banana Industry// The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 1, Feb. 2001, pp. 49-80).
The collection includes several views of the town of Almirante - the United Fruit Company’s headquarters in western Panama, showing administrative buildings, associates’ quarters and bungalows, streets, the main wharf with the tracks of the Changuinola Railway and the trestle bridge, the exterior and the interior of the Almirante hospital (showing patients’ ward, operation room, and doctors residence and wards), interiors of the company’s canteens and a reading room, an office with several workers at their desks (dated on verso “Saturday, July 29, 1916,” one of the workers is wearing radio headphones), and others.
Very interesting are the photos of the Changuinola Railway specially built in the 1910s for the transportation of bananas from the province’s interior (Guabito, Changuianola and River Sixaola on the border with Costa Rica) to the wharves of Almirante (discontinued and the tracks dismantled in the 2000s). The photos show railway tracks and stations, several train engines (with their numbers 19, 2, 39, 138, and 113 clearly seen), train cars (many with visible signs “Changuinola Railway”), a large railway bridge (apparently, across the Changuinola River), a site of a train crash with the railway tracks destroyed by the raised water level, several views of the railway construction (with drainage pipes and machinery, a dam construction); a tunnel, etc. About twenty pictures detail on different operations on the banana plantations, starting from clearing land and cutting trees, growing banana plants and finishing with harvesting bananas and transporting them, first on donkeys and horse- and bull-driven carts, and then on train cars to be loaded to steamships in Almirante. Interesting photos include general views of the plantations and the railway tracks (one photo shows a train with cars heavily loaded with bananas), portraits of West Indian workers, a close-up view of the banana plants with the decomposing trunks of the forest trees (which were left after clearing to provide natural nourishment for the plants), piles of bananas next to the railway tracks, a scene of loading the bananas to a steamship by special conveyors, and others. Another interesting photo shows workers loading produce, looking like cocoa beans, into sacks.
The collection also contains numerous photos of the UFCO’s associates and their families, private residences (interior and exterior), tennis courts, etc.; five photos depict a public celebration, apparently of the Independence Day. A captioned group portrait depicts and names twelve men, who most likely worked for the UFCO, including “Warren – roadmaster” and “Ladd – train dispatcher.” Another captioned photo portrays “Mr. K.A. Davidson, C.D. Ladd, mouth of San San River, lunch a la carte.”
There are also twelve interesting group portraits of indigenous people, most likely from Costa Rica (one of the photos is captioned «Tomando los cayucos para Sipurio. 407” in negative), showing warriors, families with children in front of their thatched-roof houses, load carriers, canoe riders; one group portrait houses over a hundred people – both American and indigenous. Other interesting photos show a caught sea turtle at the “craal” of the Maduro & Sons Company in the city of Limon, Costa Rica; a bullfight with a crowd of spectators, “The Cocoanut Palm at U.F. Company’s Hospital. Heron’s Studio, Bocas del Toro” (G.W. Heron, a photographer, and publisher of postcards from the Bocas del Toro Town, Panama in the early 20th century). Overall an important visual source on the early history of the banana plantations and railways in Central America.
“Almirante, a town with a population of about 3,000, is the headquarters for the United Fruit Company in western Panama. Bananas and cocoa are the principal exports. A concrete wharf, which provides 1,370 feet of berthing space with depths of 6.1 to 7.6 m. (20 to 25 ft.) alongside, is equipped with four electric banana-loading machines, and is served by a railroad. <…> The United Fruit Company has a narrow-gage railroad which runs to the plantations inland. A radio station, also owned by the company, is located at the town and handles commercial messages. <…> The United Fruit Company has a landing field at Changuinola, approximately 17 miles by rail from Almirante, which is used by commercial airlines and company planes. The United Fruit Company maintains a modern hospital, and health conditions in the locality are excellent” (Sailing Directions for the East Coasts of Central America and Mexico. 5th ed. [Washington, D.C.], 1952, p. 122).
Price: $9,500.00 USD