From the Boston Daily Globe, 26 Sep 1917, p1:
CROWD WALLOWS IN FREE BANANAS
Overripe Cargo Arrives in Fruit Steamer
Company Required to Distribute Under Appeal to Hoover
Boston and vicinity never saw such a banana craze as prevailed yesterday and it probably never will again, for the United Fruit Company gave away, to all who were willing to receive, the entire cargo of one of its steamships that arrived Monday from Central America laden with 27,000 bunches, approximating 3,000,000 bananas.
All the afternoon and the greater part of the night men, women and children of the North End, to say nothing of thousands from more or less distant sections of Greater Boston, crowded the freight shed on Long Wharf, in many cases wallowed in slush composed of rotten bananas, up to their ankles.
They fought and struggled for the possession of tempting looking bunches of the yellow fruit, which in a majority of cases, after they had been obtained fell all to pieces within half a minute, leaving only a bare stem to be mourned over. The fruit was over-ripe, and that was why it was given away.
Boiler Breaks Down
It all came about through one of the boilers of the steamship having become inoperative for awhile during her last trip to Central America, so disarranging the refrigerating plant that the temperature in her hold on the way to Boston with her banana cargo ranged from 80 to 90 degrees instead of about 55, the needed temperature for delaying the ripening of bananas.
When the hold was opened Monday, at Long Wharf, the cargo was found apparently dead ripe instead of green, as it should have been, in order to be saleable, for that fruit is always ripened artificially after it has reached the dealer’s hands. Not only was it nearly all ripe, but much of the cargo in the lower hold had been reduced to a state comparable with thick pea soup.
Vice Pres Eugene W. Ong of the United Fruit Company said last evening that the fruit was so soft and its tendency to rot so rapid, after it is once started, that he appealed to the Board of Health for its opinion as to dumping the whole cargo overboard, feeling sure that none of it would last long enough to be of practical use to any one.
Some Called Fit for Food
“For many years,” said he, “we have given strict orders to all our managers throughout the country never to destroy any fruit until the local health officials have declared it unfit for food. So we followed that rule in the present case.
“An inspector from the Boston Board of Health after looking over the cargo gave it as his opinion that much of the cargo was fit for food. Ripening bananas generate a great deal of gas, which it is necessary to constantly release from a ship’s hold, and as our defective refrigerating plant had not allowed the release of that gas in this case, we were afraid the edibility of the fruit might have been seriously affected by the gas. We had no desire to poison anybody.
“For that reason we asked W. W. Paine of the Boston branch of the Agricultural Department at Washington to test the fruit which was not entirely spoiled, which he did, giving the opinion that it was not injured.
“Thereupon we called up the city authorities and notified them that the municipal institutions could have all the bananas they chose to take away from the wharf. A general invitation to the public to the same effect was also issued.
Fruit Sent to the Camps
“We sent eight carloads of the fruit to different military camps in this State today and notified the Navy Yard and harbor forts to come and get all they wanted.
If they do not arrive there in a condition fit to eat, it will not be our fault, as we have made no pretense of being able to guarantee their quality.”
On hearing of the company’s proposition to the Board of Health that it be permitted to dump the entire cargo overboard, Mayor Curley telegraphed to Food Administrator Hoover at Washington that the fruit company had asked the Board of Health to condemn its entire cargo and allow it to be dumped into the sea, whereas the Board of Health claimed the fruit was fit for the market. The Mayor added: “I believe this an attempt to destroy food in order that high prices may be maintained. What do you advise?”
Vice Pres Ong of the fruit company last evening characterized the Mayor’s telegram as “a political play,” entirely unwarranted by facts. The cargo if marketable was worth about $30,000 and it cost about $2500 to unload and distribute the fruit even if given away. The latter sum would have been saved if the dumping was at sea.
Could Have Dumped Outside
“If our intention in seeking to dump the fruit overboard had been to maintain prices,” said Mr. Ong, “we cold have dumped it before coming into port, or we could have kept it on board the steamer till Thursday, when she sailed again, and have dumped it as soon as she got outside the harbor. Our good intentions are manifested in our asking the judgment of the local Board of Health.”
The extent to which average humanity will go for the sake of getting something for nothing was never better illustrated than by the thousands of people who fought and scrambled in mud and slush for many hours to get a bunch of bananas, which if in marketable condition, was worth about $1.50 at wholesale.
The early comers, about noontime, had an easy time, as hundreds of bunches were stacked within the freight shed. Those early callers fared best, for the fruit they obtained had been on the upper deck and parts of the bunches were still green, making it possible to ripen them naturally at home.
But the farther down in the ship the stevedores went, the worse the condition of the cargo, the lower strata being reduced to absolute slush. About one bunch in 10 of the upper cargo would be green or partly so, and for their possession natives of sunny Italy who were experts, fought vigorously.
Came With Trucks
At no time was there much less than 1000 persons scrambling about the open ports of the steamship, where the incessant shouting and yelling made a pandemonium. Moreover, wagons, automobiles and auto trucks were backed up in a long row close to the steamer, loading up in some cases for the benefit of municipal or suburban charitable institutions, though some drivers frankly confessed that they were there from no such altruistic motive.
One Italian had a load that must have aggregated about 10,000 bananas, which took him hours to solicit from the distributers. Even the familiar Fish-Pier jitney buss called for a load which was said to be destined for the poor children of Somerville. Another big load was taken away in an undertaker’s auto.
At nearby street corners all the evening automobiles, occupied by well-dressed persons, waited while one of the number spent an hour or more getting one, two or three bunches of the yellow fruit to take home as proud trophies.
Other bunches were wheeled homeward in baby carriages, toy carts or wheelbarrows or hand carts, while hundreds were satisfied with a quantity of the fruit tied up in a large bandana handkerchief, a newspaper, a school book strap, a meal bag or a leather handbag.
May Be Dangerous Eating
Officials of the Fruit Company last evening expressed some fear as to the effect of a free indulgence in that particular cargo of bananas on the stomachs of the recipients. Even such of the fruit as looked inviting had never properly ripened, but rotted while still green, owing to the intense heat of the ship’s hold.
Vice Pres. Ong telegraphed to Food Administrator Hoover, [anent?] an earlier telegram of Mayor Curley, last night, reciting the foregoing facts and denying any attempt to maintain high prices by du[m]ping a cargo overboard.