The Banana King: The Powerful Businessman Who Helped Rescue Jews and Launch Political Coups

By | February 4, 2019

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Russian-born American business executive Sam 'The Banana Man', head of the United Fruit Company, stands in front of stacks of bananas, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1951. Source: (Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Unless you are from New Orleans, the name Samuel Zemurray is probably not a familiar one. But his life story is an interesting and diverse one. On one hand, it's the very model of the American Dream, on the other hand, it is a complex story of a powerful and wealthy businessman who uses his position to meddle in foreign affairs…with mixed results. Here is the story of Samuel Zemurray, otherwise known as the Banana King. 

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The Mobile, Alabama, banana docks. Source: (

A Young, Penniless Immigrant

Samuel Zemurry, moved to the United States from Russia when he was just eleven years old. His family settled in Mobile, Alabama. Although his family was extremely poor, young Samuel had an enterprising spirit. He soon discovered that bananas from Honduras and other Central American countries were coming through the shipping docks at Mobile. Bananas that had ripened during the voyage were discarded because they would be too ripe after they were shipped by train to major cities. Zemurray struck a bargain with the dock workers. He would buy the ripe bananas for next to nothing and then he would sell them around town for immediate consumption, earning a hefty profit and the nickname The Banana King.