Unloading Bananas

Go bananas at the Port of Mobile

bananas getting unloaded from boat in the port of mobile

Photo courtesy Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

Mobile’s first banana boat came to the city’s port in the late 19th century, beginning Mobile’s meteoric rise to banana notoriety. By the early 1900s, Mobile was the third-largest banana importer in the United States, coming just behind New York and New Orleans. Workers unloaded, sorted, weighed and counted bananas at the banana docks by the port, oftentimes purely by hand or with the aid of a conveyor belt contraption such as the one shown at right. By the 1940s, the banana import suffered as the port shifted to importing wartime necessities during World War II. Imports rose again after the war but ceased by the late 80s. The remains of the old banana docks were cleared in the following years for the construction of the Mobile Convention Center.

Key dates in Mobile’s banana import history

1893: The first banana shipment arrives in Mobile onboard the ship Sala.

1915: Mobile leaders obtain $3 million in federal funds to use for harbor improvements into the 1920s, allowing for increased importation of bananas.

1963: United Fruit Company, the main banana importer in the Port City, pulls operations out of Mobile.

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1985: Del Monte follows United Fruit Company’s lead, moving operations from Mobile to the Biloxi area and ending banana imports in Mobile.

By the Numbers

The year Teddy Roosevelt, then-president of the New York Police Department, declared a “war on banana peels,” prompted by numerous injuries the peels caused on city streets.

The amount of money that the Mobile Chamber of Commerce offered to the first company that would operate regular fruit ships from Central America to Mobile for one year.

The number of high fives world-record holder Thorpe Underwood gave in 2012 to win Most High Fives In One Minute While Wearing A Banana Costume. Before this, the world record was set in 2011 at 48.

The year the Savannah Bananas, the exhibition baseball team known for its on-field antics, announced its first “one-city world tour,” traveling to Mobile and selling out two nights at Hank Aaron Stadium.

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