Andrew Preston was born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1846. In 1864, Preston entered a partnership with Augustus Williams to manufacture shoes in his hometown.1 After falling ill, Preston left the shoe business and began working for Charles Kimball and Company, a produce company.2
Andrew Preston worked for various fruit merchants in New Orleans from 1885-1886.3 In 1886, Preston was hired as a fruit agent by Jesse Freeman.4 Prior to the establishment of the Boston Fruit Company, Preston would often distributed bananas he received from Baker to his own clients.5 He eventually made his way to Boston and helped to distribute bananas received from Baker in Jamaica.6 Upon Freeman’s death, Preston adopted the role of Managing Directing in Boston but was unsatisfied with the reorganization of the company.7 After years of operating in this new organization, Preston forced Baker aside in 1899 and took control of the company.8 After seizing control of the Boston Fruit Company, Preston agreed to a merger between Boston fruit and Minor Keith in 1899 9.
After the merge of these two concerns, Preston became president of the new United Fruit Company. During his presidency of the United Fruit Company, Preston focused heavily on expanding investment in the boats that United Fruit used to ship bananas around the Americas. Preston is known for the establishment of the United Fruit Company’s great white fleet.10 United Fruit started with four small ships which Preston quickly replaced with larger, more powerful vessels. This expansion also included United Fruit’s first refrigerated vessel in 1903. By 1910, United Fruit under Preston was in possession of one of the county’s largest private fleets, with a total of 115 ships. Due to Preston’s zeal regarding expansion of ships and other resources, United Fruit Company grew to become a domination force in the fruit trade by 1905.11 Preston not only used his giant private fleet to ship fruit through the Americas, but these ships also transported passengers between the Caribbean and the U.S., a trip that many took as a vacation.12 These ships also shipped mail and other Caribbean cargo, allowing Preston to shut down commerce to any given region in the event of a strike or disagreement.13
Preston led United Fruit through various challenges from the U.S. government as well, most regarding anti-trust laws. United Fruit controlled and purchased many smaller fruit companies during Preston’s presidency, but he made sure to control no more than 49% of a any single market at any given time.14 Preston maintained this balance by selling stakes in companies as the government began to catch on to the possibility that United Fruit may be forming a monopoly in the fruit trade. For example, Preston sold Sam Zemurray the remaining 10% of Cuyamel Fruit Company in 1913 to boost Zemurray’s company as potential competition for United Fruit. This helped to satisfy the government that the United Fruit Company had not become a monopoly.15 Preston continued to actively lead United Fruit until he passed away in 1924 after being in poor health.16
1 The National Cyclopedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White and Company, 1910), 351
2 Toomey, Daniel, Massachusetts of Today: A Memorial of the State, Historical, and Biographical (Boston: Columbia Publishing, 1892), 224.
4 Bartlett, Randolph, Lorenzo Dow Baker and the Development of the Banana Trade Between Jamaica and the United States, 1881-1890 (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1977), 159
5 Morgenroth, Lynda, Boston Firsts: 40 Feats of Innovation and Invention that Happened First in Boston and Helped Make America Great (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 17.
7 Bartlett, Lorenzo Dow Baker and the Development of the Banana Trade Between Jamaica and the United States, 216.
8 Bartlett, Lorenzo Dow Baker and the Development of the Banana Trade Between Jamaica and the United States, 218.
9 Bucheli, Marcelo, “Enforcing Business Contracts in South America: The United Fruit Company and the Columbian Banana Planters in the Twentieth Century” The Business History Review 78, 2. (2004): 182. https://www-jstor-org.proxy1.nku.edu/stable/25096865
10 “United Fruit Company: the Great White Fleet” Visit Puerto Armuelles, Accessed February 18, 2020. https://visitpuertoarmuelles.com/united-fruit-company-the-great-white-fleet
11 Cohen, Rich, The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King (New York: Picador, 2012), 48.
12 “United Fruit Company: the Great White Fleet” Visit Puerto Armuelles
13 Cohen, The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, 48.
14 Cohen, The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life an Times of America’s Banana King, 47.
15 Cohen, RThe Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, 101
16 “United Fruit Head Dies. Andrew W. Preston Veteran in Business World.” Evening Star, September 27, 1924.