The tensile properties of european pear (Pyrus communis L. `Beurre Bosc') and asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia Nakai `Choguro') were examined using a microscope-mounted apparatus that allowed direct observation and recording of cell and tissue changes during testing. To manipulate turgor potential, tissue slices from fruit of different firmness (ripeness) were incubated in sucrose solutions of differing water potential. Solution water potentials were adjusted for individual fruit, and varied between -2.5 and 1 MPa from the water potential of the expressed juice. Fruit firmness declined from 100 to 20 N and from 60 to 25 N during ripening of european and asian pears, respectively. For both european and asian pears the relationship between fruit firmness and tensile strength of tissue soaked in isotonic solutions was sigmoidal, with the major mechanism of tissue failure being cell wall failure and cell fracture at high firmness and intercellular debonding at low firmness. In the intermediate zone, where fruit firmness and tissue tensile strength decreased simultaneously, a mixture of cell wall rupture and intercellular debonding could be observed. Tissue and cell extension at maximum force both declined similarly as fruit softened. Tensile strength of tissue from firm pears (>50 N firmness, >0.8 N tensile strength) decreased by as much as 0.6 N during incubation in solutions that were more concentrated than the cell sap (hypertonic solutions). When similar tissue slices were incubated in solutions that were less concentrated than the cell sap (hypotonic solutions), the tensile strength increased by up to 0.4 N. This is interpreted as stress-hardening of the cell wall in response to an increase in cell turgor. Tensile strength of tissue from soft pears was not affected by osmotic changes, as the mechanism of tissue failure is cell-to-cell debonding rather than cell wall failure.