#23 Tomato Mechanization
As with most inventions, the advancement of the tomato harvester had many contributors and many twists and turns in the development process. There were several designs being built by 1962. The UC-Blackwelder, and Button Johnson at the Heidrick Ag History Center were among those harvesters.
All the interest in the public sector and private sector firms, help explain why “secrecy” became an industry practice. In many cases, harvesters were developed behind closed doors, transported in secret and demonstrated to a selected audience. Even the tomato seed breeding developed by Jack Hanna took place in Mexico.
The UC Davis-Blackwelder group was most successful in commercializing the harvester during the early years. After ten years of testing various components the first prototype was built in 1959.
Blackwelder built twenty-five experimental machines. All the harvesters had problems and had to be rebuilt after testing. Significant engineering improvements had to be made for commercial success.
The #104 Blackwelder at the Heidrick Ag History Center is believed to be the third or fourth harvester built during the prototype phase and was donated to the Heidrick Ag History Center in 1993 by UC Davis.
The Button Johnson harvester arrived at the Heidrick Ag History Center in 2013. It is the tomato harvester developed by Button Johnson in 1961 and was donated by Martha Button and her children.