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TRX: 1910

Mobile, Alabama, circa 1910. "Unloading bananas." Tropical Refrigerator Express reefers at the ready. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

Mobile, Alabama, circa 1910. "Unloading bananas." Tropical Refrigerator Express reefers at the ready. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


On Shorpy:
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Source of photo?

The source of this great photo is described as Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress, but I am unable to find this photo at the Library of Congress website. Could someone provide me with a link to the photo? I've tried every search term I can think of.

[This was one of a group of hundreds of damaged glass negatives added to the LOC archive in February. They have yet to be captioned, so will not show up in search results. - Dave]


I’m interested in the boat off to the right of the ship. It’s actually a barge called a Lighter. These were, and in some cases still are, used to service ships in port. In this case the Lighter is providing coal to fuel the steam boilers. It has never been clear to me where the term came from. Some have suggested it’s from the German “Lichter” as some barges were used to off load (lighten) small deliveries to shore from large ships.

Another great photo.

Walking the Gangplank

As a free-range kid in Mobile, I have personally watched bananas being unloaded from a ship, circa 1950. It was nothing like this photo. There was a slanting gangplank between the ship and the dock, and a continuous line of men descending with stalks of bananas over their shoulders. I recall the gangplank being wooden, but am not sure of this.
Nor do I recall how the men got back on board, but obviously they did.

Gaillard-Johnson Coal Company

From the 1909 Mobile city directory. When cities had more than one telephone company. Coalyard located at foot of St. Anthony. Phone Bell 248 or Home 51.

[City directories go back to before people even had telephones. - Dave]

Hellø Bodø

Here we see the diminutive 181-foot Norwegian steamer Bodø, launched as the Xenia in 1894 at Bergen by Bergens Mekaniske Versteder for Bergh & Helland of that city. At 666 gross and 398 net tons, it was powered by a triple expansion steam engine supplied by a Scotch boiler. It became the Bodø in 1899 and was chartered to the United Fruit Company to haul fruit, primarily bananas, between Jamaica and the the East Coast. United Fruit chartered many Norwegian vessels around the turn-of-the-last century beginning in 1899. Later named Plentingen, Polar, Samos and Ikaria, it was dismantled in Greece in late 1928. It has appeared before on Shorpy (as has a similar comment of mine!)

Open Air Ship's Wheel

This is likely an emergency wheel located close to the steering mechanism. The regular-use wheel is forward, in the bridge of this steamship.

Yes -- bananas!

Look carefully at the conveyor just above the righthand white ventilator. The conveyor consists of a series of slings, each one lifting a bunch of bananas.

Yes, we have no ...

I'm banana blind -- not one in sight.

WHAT Bananas?

I see coal and not bananas!

"Yes, we have no bananas?"
or if you prefer originals:

Where's the Day-O?

Sidewheeler ID

Jas. A. Carney 1894 according to page 219 of the 1910 Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United Stares

Ship's Wheel

I don't remember seeing a ship's wheel quite so exposed to the elements outside of a pirate movie.

The banana boat is Norwegian

As evidenced by the flag. It's from Bergen and its name ends in "DØ" The beginning is obscured by the flag

Mr Tallyman

The tallyman and his buddy are on post, they even arranged a bench to check the unloading in comfort.


I can’t make out the name of the boat, and regardless it doesn’t appear that there’s a country listed, but the flag looks Norwegian to me. Does that even make sense?

Where's Harry?

I don't see the tally man.

Open door policy

I'm guessing that the reefers are in "ventilated car" mode, since bananas, while temperature sensitive, don't require the level of cooling some products do (namely frozen ones). The hatches are in the up position to facilitate air flow, rather than for icing.


This was about a decade into the long march of the United Fruit Company through Latin America, leaving in its wake "banana republics", untold injustices, and the lasting model for multinational corporations.

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