Up until the end of the eighteenth century, physicians warned against eating tomatoes, fearing they caused not only appendicitis but also stomach cancer from tomato skins adhering to the lining of the stomach.
Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey had brought the tomato home from abroad in 1808. He had been offering a prize yearly for the largest fruit grown, but the general public considered the tomato an ornamental plant rather than one for food.
As the story is told, it was Colonel Johnson who on September 26, 1820 once and for all proved tomatoes non-poisonous and safe for consumption. He stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and bravely consumed an entire basket of tomatoes without keeling over or suffering any ill effects whatsoever.
Johnson’s public stunt garnered a lot of attention, and North America’s love affair with the tomato was off and running.
Listen below to a 1940s CBS radio dramatisation of the event:
Creative Commons licence: Public Domain.