The area around La Ceiba  was first settled by a few Garífuna families from Trujillo  who built a village on the west side of the estuary in 1810. They were followed by Olancho immigrants fleeing violence in their homeland in the 1820s. One of these olanchanos, Manuel Hernández, built his house near a massive ceiba tree, which became the town’s informal gathering place. The tree was cut down in 1917 to make way for the customs building, but the name stuck.
In the late 19th century, La Ceiba was in the midst of the booming banana industry. The first banana plantations on the mainland were planted near the mouth of the Río Cangrejal , and others soon followed in the vicinity. But the population of La Ceiba was still only about 2,000 when the Vaccaro brothers of New Orleans arrived in 1899, scouting for banana lands. They were awarded a concession at Porvenir, just west of La Ceiba, and quickly built a railroad track to transport their fruit to La Ceiba, where it could be shipped north. By 1905 the Vaccaros had moved their company headquarters to La Ceiba and began transforming the town.
The company offices and housing for American employees were built in what came to be known as the Mazapan district, unsubtly surrounded by high cyclone fencing. The Vaccaros—who by 1926 had named their operation the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company—built the city dock, managed the town port, supplied the city’s electric power, set up the first bank, built the D’Antoni Hospital, and even brewed the first version of Salva Vida, one of Honduras ’s most popular beers.
Standard’s business quickly expanded to the Trujillo  region and into the rich Valle del Aguán, in the process attracting workers from across the globe and turning La Ceiba  into one of the north coast’s great cultural melting pots. Garífuna, Honduran campesinos (peasants), Jamaicans, Cayman Islanders, North Americans, Arabs, Italians, Spaniards, French, and Cubans, to name only the most prominent, all lived side by side in La Ceiba, and their mark can still be seen on the city today.
Standard Fruit—now Dole—is still La Ceiba’s largest employer, although it has long since diversified its products. Most of its produce is now shipped out of Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo; the dock in La Ceiba is no longer used.