One of TR’s many foes: the banana peel

August 22, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Before Theodore Roosevelt battled the Spanish on San Juan Hill, before he fought the trusts in Congress, he had a more obscure but just as dangerous arch-enemy: the banana peel.

Roosevelt was police commissioner of New York City in the 1890s when there was little or no garbage service. People simply threw their garbage in the street.

As Alex Mayyasi writes in Atlas Obscura:

Accounts and photos from the time are stunning. New Yorkers threw their trash in the street, where no one picked it up, leading the city to release wild pigs to eat the refuse. Dead animals lingered in gutters for days. In this environment, discarded banana peels rotted into slippery messes and mottled into a camouflaging brown. Source: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels – Gastro Obscura

Bananas were a particular problem. They had become a popular, ready-to-eat fruit because of changes in the way they were imported. But the discarded peels often landed in the streets and sidewalks and then turned slimy and dangerous.

Roosevelt told his policemen to stay on guard against this foe and “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.”

That’s just one of several fascinating stories contained in Mayyasi’ article about the state of New York’s streets and how they got cleaned up — literally. Take a look: When New Yorkers Were Menaced by Banana Peels – Gastro Obscura

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