Great Moments in History: How Thanksgiving Inspired the TV Dinner
The origin of the tv dinner determines on who you talk with.
CREDIT: Jo Naylor
The TV dinner was inspired by the mother of all Thanksgiving leftovers.
Here's how the story goes, according to (of all places) the U.S. Census Bureau: In 1953 (if you believe the Census Bureau), the Swanson Company grossly overestimated the need for Thanksgiving turkeys and was stuck with more than a half-million pounds of unsold bird. A salesman named Gerry Thomas is said to have modified a tray used by airlines into one with three compartments, filled it with a turkey dinner and suggested promoting the meals to go with television, another invention that was taking off at the time.
Not wanting to trust the government blindly, however, we also turned to the Library of Congress on this one.
That agency's take on this history: Maxson Food Systems, Inc. made the first complete frozen meals in 1945 — to be reheated for military and civilian airplane passengers. In the late 1940s, Jack Fisher's frozen FridgiDinners were sold to taverns. Then in 1949, Albert and Meyer Bernstein's Frozen Dinners, Inc. sold frozen dinners on three-compartment aluminum trays to groceries, but only in the Pittsburgh area.
Finally, in 1954 (according to the Library of Congress) Swanson coined the term "TV Dinner." But wait, there's more to the story. Betty Cronin, a bacteriologist who worked for Swanson back then, says the Swanson brothers (Gilbert and Clarke) themselves came up with the concept of the TV dinner, not Gerry Thomas the salesman.
Today, more than one-third of U.S. homes have a separate freezer in addition to the one that's part of the fridge, allowing for storage of plenty of TV dinners to gobble on demand. At least that's what the U.S. Census Bureaus says.
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