No one really liked this solution, in large part because Californians of the time feared that the Golden State would become exactly what it is in 2017. Enter Gordie C. "Jack" Hanna -- not the zookeeper from those old television shows, but a plant breeder at UC Davis. In 1942, Hanna had a dream: a world that no longer needed anyone toiling in the tomato fields, but which instead used machines to pick out those blood-red jewels from the bushes.
When telling others, he wisely left out the part of the dream where he was suddenly naked and the tomatoes all turned to boobs.
Hanna's insight, and it was one that you really had to be a plant breeder to come up with, was to see the harvest from the tomato's point of view. Imagine that you're a tomato, and that you wanted to be picked by a terrifying metal monster without being turned to tomato paste prematurely. Hanna had a simple test for his tomatoes: He would throw them onto the road by the experimental farm at UC Davis, and breed the ones that survived.
It took nearly 20 years between breeding road-resistant tomatoes and building the machines that would pick them before Hanna and his engineer colleague, Coby Lorenzen, got it right with the VF-145 tomato (called the "square tomato" because it wouldn't roll) and the Blackwelder mechanical tomato harvester. We have someone's 16mm movies of the first ones in operation, and they are legitimately awesome.
If tomatoes could have nightmares, this is what they would see.
But this invention didn't take place in a vacuum. Hanna and Lorenzen were working against time. National opinion had turned against the dreaded Mexican, leading to things like the Eisenhower administration's subtly named Operation Wetback. The bracero program was going to be phased out, leaving California's processed tomato industry with no one exploit. Kick out the Mexicans, and what happens to the ketchup? The square tomato and the mechanical tomato harvester saved the processed tomato industry. In five years, over 95 percent of processing tomatoes in California were picked by machine.