HISTORY OF THE PRODUCTION OF TOMATOES FOR PROCESSING IN THE U.S.A.

W.L. Sims
The tomato plant and its fruit were remarkedly slow to gain acceptance in the United States of America except as ornamental, a medicinal or a curiosity. People knew it was related to poisonous members of the nightshade family. Such superstitions persisted widely even into the 20th Century even though it had been brought to America by the early colonists. The first mention of it there was made in 1710 by William Salmon in his Botanologia, the English Herbal, or History of Plants. The next surviving printed reference was by Thomas Jefferson, who in 1782 wrote of tomato plantings in Virginia. However, efforts of several enthusiastic growers of that early period were unsuccessful in getting people to use the fruit. It was brought to Philadelphia in 1798 by a French refugee from Santo Domingo, but was not sold in the market until 1829. However, it appears the tomato was still very little known as an edible vegetable in the U.S.A. until 1830 to 1840. It was during this time that several new varieties appeared.

The history of the tomato canning industry dates back to the year 1847. Harrison Woodhull Crosby, Assistant Steward and Chief Gardener of Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, turned the refectory of the college into a laboratory, soldered tin lids into small tin pails, stuffed some "love-apples", or tomatoes, through holes in the lids, soldered tin plated over these holes, and immersed the sealed cans in boiling water until their contents were sterilized. Thus, he became the first practical tomato canner (Judge 1914).

According to Gould (1974) prior to 1890 all unit operations in the canning of tomatoes were done by hand. Between 1890 and 1900 the tomato scalder, cyclone, and "Merry-go-round" peeling tables were put into use. In the early 1920's, the juice extractor was developed and tomato juice came onto the market. In the 1930's homogenization and flash pasteurization were significant improvements in the processing of tomato juice. Stewed tomatoes were on the market in the 1940's. In the 1950's lye and flame peeling were significant contributions to the history of the tomato-processing industry. In the 1960's significant new products, such as diced and sliced tomatoes, frozen sliced tomatoes, and many styles of tomato cocktails made their appearance.

The most remarkable fact about the large rise in the commercial production of tomatoes is that it has been accompanied by a decline in the amount of land planted to tomatoes. The reason is the improvement in yields per hectare. Yields 40 years ago averaged about 13.5 metric tons per hectare in California and about 10 metric tons in other states; now they are respectively 51.5 and 33.5 tons. It is a tribute to the research that has led to the introduction of better cultivars and improved methods of production.

Per capita comsumption of tomatoes in the U.S. has also increased tremendously. In the 1920's it was 8.2 kilograms whereas today it is 25.5 kilograms.

Tomatoes for processing are grown principally in three regions of the United States - California, the midwest and the east. Tomato production has shifed over the past 25 years from the east and the midwest to California. In the yearly years, the industry was centered in Maryland; then it moved to Indiana; and at present California dominates the production areas. Ohio has sizeable acreage in the Midwest with New Jersey of som sifnificance in the East. In 1977, California production reached a record high 86 percent of the U.S. total. In 1950, only 36 percent of the U.S. tomato tonnage was produced in California.

California has experienced this growth because of a unique combination of natural and technological production advantages. Favorable weather, adequate water and availabe fertile land provide an unique production environment. Other growth factors include a concentration of high level technological management skills at both the production and processing levels and a strong research backup from both private and public sectors.

Several technological changes resulting in lower costs and more efficient production have also been partially responsibile for shifts in location of tomato production. The most dramatic change was the innovation of the mechanical harvester in the 1960's with concurrent developement of high yielding machine harvest tomato cultivars and Extension investigators and growers whose ingenuity improved methods of production. Its adoption rate in California closely paralleled the upward shift in California's share of the United States production.

In 1956, the average size of operation was 36.8 hectares. In 1975, 845 grower-operators produced tomatoes for processing on 121 500 hectares for an average of 146 hectares per grower. Although the average size of operation has increased in each of the regions the midwest and east remain quite small when compared with California farms. Since 1956, acreage planted per farm has quadrupled, partially in order to make more efficient use of the machinery and equipment.

U.S.A. production for processing tomatoes in 1978 was 5 780 000 metric tons harvested from 118 304 hectares and valued at $409.2 million. This is a 15 percent decrease in tonnage from the 1977 production.

Sims, W.L. (1980). HISTORY OF THE PRODUCTION OF TOMATOES FOR PROCESSING IN THE U.S.A.. Acta Hortic. 100, 27-30
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1980.100.2
https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1980.100.2

Acta Horticulturae