6 Things You Didn’t Know About Retro TV Dinners

Learn the history behind these quick, convenient frozen meals that changed family dinnertime forever.

1. Indigenous people shared lessons in freezing food

In 1930, inventor and naturalist Clarence Birdseye launched the first line of frozen foods under the label Birds Eye Frosted Food Co. He learned about flash freezing from Inuit fishermen while living in Labrador, Canada. Check out these healthy frozen food brands you’ll want to eat. 

2. Frozen meals were first served in taverns and airplanes

Extra vegetables from his victory garden inspired W.L. Maxson to create Strato-Plates in 1945, one of the first complete frozen meals. They were designed for reheating and serving on military and civilian airplanes. Jack Fisher created FridgiDinners in the 1940s for use as convenient meals in U.S. taverns. Prep these freezer meals so they’re ready when you are.

3. Pittsburgh home cooks tested frozen entrees

Frozen Dinners Inc. sold One-Eyed Eskimo meals, the first frozen entrees for the home, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1949. After finding success locally, the company expanded across the country and changed names. Quaker State Food Corp. sold 2.5 million entrees by 1954.

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4. Swanson turned surplus turkey into success

In 1953, Betty Cronin, a C.A. Swanson & Sons bacteriologist, figured out how meat, potatoes and vegetables could be heated at one temperature for the same amount of time. An oft-repeated story says Swanson turned excess Thanksgiving turkey into success by filling an aluminum tray with turkey supper fixings. The company marketed its frozen meals to busy women in the workforce. “I’m late—but dinner won’t be,” touted one 1950s ad.

5. Genius marketing sold millions of TV Dinners

Frozen meals took off big-time in 1954 when Swanson dubbed them “TV Dinners.” As a result, sales hit 25 million by the end of the year. The portable trays were easy to reheat. And people enjoyed eating in front of the newfangled television sets that were fast becoming centerpieces of American living rooms. Even the packaging of the meals looked like a TV, complete with images of a screen and control knobs. We found the best ways to dress up a TV Dinner.

6. More changes increased convenience

The trays gained a fourth compartment to accommodate dessert in 1960. Swanson dropped the name “TV Dinners” in 1962 because the meals could be eaten for lunch, too. Or even breakfast. And in 1986, the popularity of microwaves prompted Swanson to switch from aluminum to plastic trays.

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Originally Published in Reminisce