Zemurray, Samuel

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Zemurray, Samuel

Samuel Zemurray, 1877–1961, American business executive, b. Russia as Schmuel Zmuri; he Americanized his name early in the 20th cent. His nearly penniless family emigrated in 1891 and soon settled in Selma, Ala. By 1899 he had entered the banana business, buying freight cars filled with fruit in Mobile and peddling the bananas to grocers along railroad sidings. He soon expanded to New Orleans, negotiating a contract with the United Fruit Co. (UFCO) to act as a middleman. In 1900 "Sam the Banana Man" and a partner purchased two tramp steamers, and in 1910 he bought 5,000 acres in Honduras, where he established the Cuyamel Fruit Co. Using modern agricultural techniques such as irrigation and applying political pressure, Cuyamel flourished. In 1930 Zemurray sold it to United Fruit, becoming UFCO's largest stockholder and one of its directors; he became managing director in 1934 and UFCO president in 1938. Under his leadership (1938–51), the company became the world's largest grower, shipper, and seller of bananas, and it came to dominate much of Central American politics as well. A symbol of Yankee economic imperialism, Zemurray was for years often considered the most powerful figure in Central America.

See R. Cohen, The Fish That Ate the Whale (2012).

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