The History of TV Dinners

Turkey, mashed potatoes and peas dinner on tray in front of TV
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Gerry Thomas, a salesman with the Swanson food company, claims credit for inventing the Swanson TV Dinner in 1954. Swanson TV Dinners fulfilled two post-war trends:

  • the lure of time-saving modern appliances
  • the fascination with a growing innovation, the television

Swanson TV dinners were the first commercially successful frozen meal.

More than 10 million TV dinners were sold during the first year of Swanson's national distribution. For $.98 per dinner, customers were able to choose among Salisbury steak, meatloaf, fried chicken, or turkey, served with potatoes and bright green peas; special desserts were added later. The food groups in a TV dinner were displayed neatly in a divided metal tray and heated up in a conventional oven

Goodbye TV Dinner, Hello Microwave

Swanson removed the name "TV Dinner," from the packaging in the 1960s. The Campbell Soup Company replaced the aluminum trays of Swanson frozen TV dinners with plastic, microwave-safe trays in 1986. Today frozen dinners are offered by a variety of brands, including Stouffer's, Marie Callender's, and Healthy Choice.

Going Down in History

In 1987 the original TV Dinner tray was placed in the Smithsonian Institution to commemorate the tray's impact on American culture, sealing TV Dinners' place in American cultural history. Celebrity figures from Howdy Doody to President Eisenhower touted the dinners. In 1999, Swanson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pinnacle Foods Corporation, the current owners of Swanson products since 2001, recently celebrated fifty years of TV Dinners, and Swanson TV Dinners still remain in the public conscience as the dinner phenomenon of the 50s that grew up with television.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of TV Dinners." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). The History of TV Dinners. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of TV Dinners." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).