Thanksgiving Invented The TV Dinners Industry

Grace Higgins | November 26th, 2020

The birth of the massive TV dinner industry, such as microwaveable meals, started as a big mistake. During the 1940s, the most prominent brands creating frozen food was Swanson and Birds Eye. However, at this time it was mostly frozen vegetables or meat, meaning you still had to put the meal together. The concept of a fully prepared meal that you could just heat, known as the TV dinner, didn’t happen until 1953. And it was due to a colossal error on Swanson’s part.

In 1953, the person in charge ordered the turkeys to be frozen overestimated by 300 tons. The company now had 300 tons of frozen birds sitting in refrigerator railroad cars. Thanksgiving was over so there would not be a chance to sell them. So what to do? Gerry Thomas a Swanson salesman, came along with a vision. A vision of easy meals for families across the whole of the USA. Inspired by the trays of pre-prepared food that he saw on Airlines, he pitched the idea of a TV dinner tray.

And the rest as they say is history. Ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and arming himself with an assembly line of workers with spatulas and scoops. Thomas was able to put together the first TV dinner tray which had turkey, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. Along with a cornbread dressing and some butter. Swanson launched a marketing campaign and along with the price being 98 cents, the TV dinner soon shot off as a successful product.

Swanson quickly took advantage of the shift to watching TV nearly all the time. Families became used to hearing their ads, and children became obsessed with the concept of TV dinners. Many believe TV dinners were actually one of the best parts of early television’s success. Of course, these stackable trays that saved time and energy made a lot of sense to most Americans at the time. Sure there was some shaming over not making a home-cooked meal. But overtime perceptions and perspectives changed, nowadays, we find supermarkets selling nearly every type of food that can be ready to eat in a matter of minutes.

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