Eli and the Octopus: The Man Who Failed to Tame United Fruit Company


ACLS Fellowship Program


Latin American and Latinx Studies, and History


“Eli and the Octopus” explores the life of Eli Black, the first and last chief executive officer of United Fruit Company. Although Black initially changed the image of United Fruit from an exploitative food conglomerate to one that cared about its employees, economic and political pressures drove him to decisions that led him to a tragic end. On February 3, 1975, Eli Black committed suicide by throwing himself from the forty-fourth floor of the Pan American Building in Manhattan. Soon after his death, journalists revealed that he had bribed the president of Honduras to lower tariffs on his bananas. The story of Black’s failed effort to reform United Fruit anticipates the trend toward socially conscious capitalism and explains the origins of a transnational food system governed by free trade.