HONDURAS’ BANANA TRADE HISTORY
CHAPTER I: THE BEGINNING OF STANDARD FRUIT COMPANY
Offhand, the winter of 1899 should not have had any bearing on the founding of Standard Fruit Company’s Honduras Division, but indeed it did. The battering winds and the piercing cold with which it struck southern Louisiana destroyed the citrus farms located south of New Orleans and thus devastated the livelihood of four Sicilians, the Vaccaro brothers: Joseph, Luca and Felix; and Salvador D’Antoni, an in-law. Salvador had married the daughter of the eldest brother, Joseph, on January 18th of that year. Their combined efforts to salvage something out of the devastation caused by the storms of early February, 1899, was the beginning of Standard Fruit Company.
The Vaccaros were taught the produce business by their father, who practiced the trade in Italy and later in the United States, about the time of the American Civil War. Joseph was born in Contessa Entellina, Sicily, and came to Southern Louisiana in 1867 at the age of twelve. With no command of English, and very little schooling, he was fortunate to get work at Magnolia Plantation, the property of Reconstruction Governor Henry Clay Warmoth. He also worked for a time in the sugar cane fields and hauled produce. After some time, he was joined by his brother, Luca, born in 1858 in Sicily, and Felix, born in 1866 in New Orleans, in managing a truck farm and selling produce in New Orleans where they made a modest living and began raising families.
Salvador D’Antoni, born in Cefalu, Sicily, in 1874, migrated to America as a boy. He lived with relatives for a few years in Baton Rouge where he worked as a peddler on the streets. On the arrival of his brother, Carmelo from Sicily, they decided to open a small store selling produce near Burtville, ten miles south of Baton Rouge. The Vaccaro and D’Antoni families thus began their association, with Salvador D’Antoni supplying his little store with wholesale purchases from Joseph Vaccaro.
In 1897, misfortune struck the D’Antonis. The Mississippi in full flood, tore a gap through its levee and engulfed the community of Burtville. The little store disappeared. Having abandoned their hope for reestablishing their business, the D’Antonis moved to New Orleans and joined into a partnership with Joseph Vaccaro. Vaccaro owned three small boats for transporting fruit on the river, and Salvador’s role in the partnership was to over-see the purchase of orange crops from down river and deliver the fruit to Joseph who sold it from the French market in New Orleans. One lugger, as these boats were called, was left in the plantation country as a headquarters for Carmelo D’Antoni, who served as cook and supervisor of the crews doing the harvesting. Salvador managed the orange purchases, harvesting and handled the transportation. He was constantly running up the river with heavy-laden luggers to the city, then returning empty to swap boats with his brother. The system worked, and business expanded sufficiently for the partners to buy a run-down plantation which Salvador D’Antoni began to manage. As mentioned before, on January 18th, 1899, Salvador married the daughter of his partner, Mary Vaccaro, not quite nineteen, and the families were permanently united. But less than three weeks later, their dreams for the future were destroyed, along with the citrus, by the deep South’s severest winter.
Written by J.P. Sanchez, La Ceiba, Honduras. This online book is copyrighted and property of Honduras.com. Any reproduction in whole or in part is strictly prohibited. This perspective of the Honduras banana trade is the author’s. The opinions therein do not necessarily reflect those of Honduras.com management.