In 1876, the Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia ran from May 10 through November 10, a six-month long celebration of the 100th birthday of the Declaration of Independence. It also was a showcase for numerous new foods and products, many of which were introduced to th American consumer for the first time.

In 1876, the Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia ran from May 10 through November 10, a six-month long celebration of the 100th birthday of the Declaration of Independence. It also was a showcase for numerous new foods and products, many of which were introduced to th American consumer for the first time.
Telephones and typewriters, sewing machines and steam engines, agricultural equipment, and new or improved foods were some of the highlights of the expo. A man named Hires debuted his new root beer recipe and in a 40-acre display of tropical plants, Americans first became acquainted with the banana.
Until then, few Americans had ever seen or tasted a banana. Although some of the first bananas that came into the United States were exported around 1870, the Centennial Exposition was where people learned about the fruit.
The method of eating a banana at the time included a knife and fork, something still done at very formal dinners. Most of us, however, just peel and eat or use bananas in a variety of delicious recipes.
As a young child, I didn't like bananas. That may have been because I was often a picky eater in my earliest years or it might be because the doctor was fond of prescribing what he called "banana medicine" to kids. It was supposed to taste like bananas but to me, it was simply yucky. So, I didn't eat bananas.
That changed, however, one day when my dad took my brother and I with him down to The Market. I used capital letters to emphasize the fact it wasn't an ordinary trip to the grocery store or even the supermarket but to the old market, located on what was once known as Market Square in my hometown of St. Joseph. It was an old style open air market with a few shops selling speciality items including meat and produce.
We went down to the market to buy good quality, imported olive oil to make meatballs from a special family recipe but that's another story.
This story revolves around a man named Tony Lipira. According to family lore, he was a good friend of my late grandfather, Otto Sontheimer, so when we entered his shop my dad introduced himself.
Mr. Lipira's face lit up with a broad smile. "So these are the grandchildren of Otto?" he asked.
When my dad confirmed that we were, he wanted to give us something in memory of the old friendship so he handed my brother and I each a banana. He pressed the fruit into our hands, talking about my grandfather and after we went home, with our olive oil, I was compelled to try the banana.
It might seem silly to some that his gesture overrode my reluctance to taste the fruit but my desire to please Mr. Lipira encouraged me to eat the banana he gave me.
And, to my surprise, I liked it.
I'm not alone because according to some recent statistics, 96% of American household buy bananas one a month or more. Once bananas found a place in the public palate, it wasn't long until cooks started experimenting with the fruit. By the 1930's, banana bread and banana puddings were popular. Today, it's easy to locate banana muffins, cookies, cakes, candy, and ice creams.
The popular banana split was created in 1904 by a drug store clerk and remain popular in several varieties. Some are made with three scoops of vanilla ice cream with the toppings while others are fixed with one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream.
If it wasn't for the Centennial Exposition held over 140 years ago, we might not have our familiar fruit favorite, the banana so I'm glad someone decided to have a tropical plant exhibit that included bananas!






Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.