We’re all familiar with the old cartoons or old movies where a character slips on a banana peel and comes crashing down to the ground. But has anyone you know actually slipped on a banana peel and fallen? Probably not.
But it turns out that banana peels were in fact dangerous, especially in the large cities of the East Coast at the turn of the twentieth century. Annie Correal, writing for the New York Times, profiles the secret life of the city banana and notes how their popularity over a hundred years ago also made them dangerous.
They were so plentiful that in some cities, peels became a hazard. Yes, seriously. People fell and were injured. At least one man actually died from slipping on a banana peel. A headline in The New York Times in 1896 declared a “War on the Banana Skin.”
The 1896 article recounts how, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president of the city’s police department, “explained the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.” Roosevelt charged the police precinct supervisors to crack down on fruit and vegetable dealers from dumping “banana peels, apple and potato skins, and similar articles” on the lower eastside streets where many markets were prevalent.
Slipping on a banana peel was so common at these markets that it must have made an impression on Jewish immigrants who populated Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Correal, “the notion of slipping on a banana peel made its way into American culture, [Dan] Koeppel said, thanks to Yiddish theater, Vaudeville and, eventually, silent films.”1 From there, it was just a matter of time that it became a common trope in TV programs since then.
I knew I hated bananas for a reason.
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- Dan Koeppel is author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (2008). ↩