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Imagine life without juicy tomatoes on salads or tomato sauce on pasta and pizzas, what a bland and depressing world that would be, right? Americans may not realize it but they have Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson to thank for standing by tomatoes and helping the country realize that this fruit was a precious gift of nature.

The journey of tomatoes to North America

Tomatoes became wildly popular in various European countries like Italy in the 1500s. Spaniards brought them to their colonized countries in Asia and the Caribbean. When the fruit finally reached England much later, it was avoided since it was thought to be poisonous. John Gerard, a barber-surgeon was the first to cultivate the tomato and he believed that it contained tomatine, a poisonous chemical. Gerard was actually correct, but the level of tomatine in the fruit was too low to be harmful. His view became widespread that people from England and its North American colonies avoided the love apple like the plague.

The trial of the tomatoes

Practically everyone in North America believed the rumor about the dangers of consuming tomatoes except Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson. During the peak of the tomato season, Col. Johnson challenged the skeptical citizens of Salem City as he announced that he would eat a tomato to prove it was not poisonous.

On June 28, 1820, on the steps of the county courthouse, Col. Johnson spoke to the crowd of 2,000 about the history of tomatoes. He then picked one glistening red tomato and held it up for everyone to see. Col. Johnson took bite after bite until he finished one and picked up another. Apparently, there was even a doctor on standby just in case. But the only thing that died that day was the ridiculous rumor that tomatoes were poisonous. Both Col. Johnson and the tomato were victorious that day.