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How a Thanksgiving Dinner Mix-Up Led to the TV Dinner

A MEAL FOR THE CHANGING AMERICAN HOME

Would you believe that Thanksgiving dinner — a meal dedicated to home cooking, family time, and, well, being thankful — was directly responsible for the invention of the TV dinner, the ultimate

suggested they package up the remaining turkey with a few sides as frozen dinners that would be ready to eat after being thawed. The twist? They would be served in compartmentalized aluminum trays,

manifestation of the solitary, processed meal? If you are a little suspicious of that fact, you’re not alone. But, the connection is real. Those little frozen meals on trays were the result of a Turkey Day mix-up of epic proportions. The year was 1953. That fall, the frozen food company C.A. Swanson & Sons drastically

much like airplane meals, which were the inspiration for Thomas’ idea. Additionally, they would be marketed as “TV dinners,” with their packaging designed to look like a television set. By 1954, roughly half of American households had TVs. Over the next 10 years, that figure jumped to 92%. As the TV rose in prominence in American living rooms, the TV

overestimated howmany Americans would want a turkey as the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving spread, leaving themwith about 260 tons of extra turkey packed into 10 refrigerated railroad cars. They needed a way to sell this surplus quickly because they had to keep running the train cars back and forth between the East Coast and the Midwest to generate the electricity needed to keep the turkey from spoiling. The company sent out a bulletin asking if any of their employees had a solution to the problem. Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas had a winning idea. He

dinner’s popularity increased exponentially. Swanson sold nearly 10 million of them during the first year of production. By 1959, Americans spent half a billion dollars gobbling up TV dinners. Several other phenomena have been linked to the advent of the TV dinner, such as the erosion of the traditional family dinner and a preference for TV entertainment over family conversation during mealtime. It’s hard to believe it all happened because of one Thanksgiving Day with too much turkey!

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