How Americans sued for a tomato

Knicks v. Hedden - Supreme Court decision on tomato being a vegetable. The case was brought by the Knicks Brothers against Edward Hedden, a customs officer from New York. The customs tariff of 1883 (Tariff Act of March 3, 1883) imposed a duty on the import of vegetables, and did not tax the import of fruit. Naturally, the two entrepreneur brothers decided to save money and refused to pay tax based on the assertion that a tomato is not a vegetable at all, but a fruit.

From a botanical point of view, a tomato is a fruit, but the court ruled in favor of the defendant on the grounds that the law used the term “vegetable” in an everyday sense.

As evidence, the plaintiffs' attorney provided definitions from Webster's and Imperial Dictionary. Two long-time trade witnesses were questioned about the special meaning of the word "vegetable" in trade circles. They showed that the terms "vegetable" and "fruit" are used in trade in the same way as in everyday life.

The above definitions from the dictionaries define a fruit as the fruit of the seed of a plant, or a part containing seeds, especially the juicy fleshy pulp of certain plants that covers the seeds. These definitions do not prove that tomatoes are fruits and not vegetables, both in everyday speech and in the context of the Customs Tariff.