Keith, Minor Cooper, 1848–1929, American magnate, a founder of the United Fruit Company, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. In the face of incredible hardships he built (1871–90) a railroad from the port of Limón, which he founded on the Caribbean, to San José, capital of Costa Rica. Banana plantations that he started experimentally near Limón in 1873 prospered, and he established the first steamship service to bring these bananas to the United States. He gained control of other plantations in Panama and Colombia and dominated the banana trade. In 1899 he combined his plantation interests with those of the Boston Fruit Company in the West Indies to form the United Fruit Company. He returned to railroad building, organized (1912) the International Railways of Central America, and completed an 800-mi (1,287-km) railway system, but died before realizing his dream of a line from Guatemala to the Panama Canal. His work profoundly altered the economic life of Central American countries.
See W. Stewart, Keith and Costa Rica (1964).
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