It all started at a photography convention in 1972, when Ken Bannister, VP of a manufacturing company, passed out Chiquita banana stickers to people he encountered. The goal, he said, was simply to get people’s attention and to make them smile. After all, what better way to garner a grin than by using the fruit that’s “shaped like a smile.”
Soon after, Bannister started receiving banana-related paraphernalia – or “banana-phernalia” – in the mail. Inspired by his banana publicity, and eager to keep people smiling, Bannister then began referring to himself as “Bananaster” and “T.B.,” short for “Top Banana.” The nicknames stuck and “Bananaster” eventually became the founder of the first ever International Banana Club.
Bannister received so much banana-phernalia that he decided to open the club’s first and only museum, the International Banana Club Museum, in 1976. Today, the museum is home to 17,000 banana collectibles, all of which have been donated by members of the club. Objects range from a gold-sequined Michael Jackson banana to the world’s only petrified banana. With so many objects, the museum holds the Guinness Book of World Record’s title of “World’s Largest Collection” devoted to one fruit.
Membership to the club is a flat rate of $15 and, just like Bananaster, members can come up with their own nickname. Additionally, members can climb up in social ranks; the more banana-phernalia one donates, the higher the “B.M.” (banana merit) they are rewarded, such as PHB, Doctorate of Bananistry Degree. Banana Club members are said to get extra discounts when presenting their Banana Club Cards in public, though a simple smile is what the club strives for. And if the smile isn’t enough, members can also brag about their fellow famous Banana Club-ers: Jay Leno and former US President, Ronald Reagan.
The Banana Club Museum has bounced around from location to location over the last few years. In 2010, Bannister sold the museum; the new ownership is no longer associated with the Banana Club, but the international Banana Museum presently calls North Shore, California home.
Update as of February 2022: The museum is closed indefinitely.