Labor and pleasure at the Old Slip banana docks

Bananas are so ubiquitous in New York, it’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t fish a few coins from your pocket and buy one at a corner bodega or sidewalk fruit vendor.

But this exotic food was a luxury item after the Civil War, selling for the equivalent of two bucks. Each banana came peeled and sliced, as the shape of the fruit violated Victorian codes of decency, according to Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.

With New York one of the busiest port cities in the world, it wasn’t long before fruit companies began shipping mass quantities of bananas on ships arriving at the “banana docks” at the Old Slip piers near Wall Street.

Unloading bananas looked like hard work, according to these turn of the century images. But for small boys in the neighborhood, the banana docks presented opportunities.

“In the warm summer days it was great fun sliding under the dock while the men were unloading the boatloads of bananas from Central America,” wrote governor and presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith in his 1929 autobiography.

“An occasional overripe banana would drop from the green bunch being handed from one dock laborer to another, and the short space between the dock and the boat contained room enough for at least a dozen of us to dive after the banana.”

[Top photo: MCNY, 1906, X2011.34.4388; second photo: 1904 LOC]

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7 Responses to “Labor and pleasure at the Old Slip banana docks”

  1. Labor and pleasure at the Old Slip banana docks ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] “An occasional overripe banana would drop from the green bunch being handed from one dock laborer to another, and the short space between the dock and the boat contained room enough for at least a dozen of us to dive after the banana.” [Top photo: MCNY, 1906, X2011.34.4388; second photo: 1904 LOC] Source link […]

  2. greg chown Says:

    I’ve read that the New York sidewalks were so littered with banana peels that people were literally slipping on them, prompting the start of a proper sanitation/garbage collection dept.

  3. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    “Yes, we have no bananas/We have no bananas today!”

  4. Bobby Says:

    No mention of the feared spider that went along with the hoards of banana branch’s

  5. Bella Stander Says:

    If bananas were considered indecent, what about cucumbers and summer squash?

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    One of my favorite street names in New York is “Old Slip.”

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