How are Thanksgiving and TV dinners connected?
Ultimately, C.A. Swanson and Sons was responsible for making frozen meals, or TV dinners, popular—and it all came about, according to Smithsonian, History.com and other sources, because of Thanksgiving turkey.
In the 1950s, Swanson was widely recognized for its frozen poultry and chicken pot pies. In early 1953, after low Thanksgiving turkey sales, the company had 260 tons of leftover turkeys. To keep them from thawing and going bad, Swanson placed them in 10 refrigerated railway cars that were shuttled back and forth between the company’s Nebraska headquarters and the East coast, since the cars’ refrigeration only worked when the vehicles were moving, while executives brainstormed solutions.
According to the most widely accepted account, a Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the idea of the frozen dinners after seeing aluminum trays meant for frozen food while visiting a distributor’s warehouse. Thomas says he sketched the idea of a three-compartment version that could double as both a cooking and serving tray and presented it to his bosses. Swanson filled the trays with the leftover turkey and gravy over cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes. It is said that Betty Cronin, Swanson’s bacteriologist, researched how to heat the meat and vegetables at the same time while killing food-borne germs.
Swanson tied the marketing of the meals with the television, for which sales were climbing at the time. Advertisements targeted women who worked outside the home or who just wanted a break from the daily grind of preparing family suppers. The meals were priced at 98 cents.
The Swanson “TV Dinner” hit grocery store freezer cases on September 10, 1953. In 1954, more than 10 million were sold, and the next year, 25 million were sold.
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