National TV Dinner Day is observed annually on September 10th. In 1953, C.A. Swanson & Sons was about to forever changed the prepackaged meal business. Introducing the TV Dinner revolutionized frozen food.
In 1962, Swanson stopped using the name “TV Dinner”. However, in the United States, the term remains synonymous with any prepackaged dinner purchased frozen from a store and heated at home.
The first Swanson TV Dinner consisted of a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes. The original tray was made of aluminum and each food item had separate compartments. The dinner had to be heated in the oven and took about 25 minutes to cook. Today most frozen food trays are made of microwaveable safe material.
The original product sold for 98 cents and the production estimate for the first year was 5,000 dinners. To their surprise, Swanson far exceeded that amount and in the first year, sold more than 10 million of them.
- The TV dinner can actually trace its history to airplanes, and a company called Maxson Food Systems that began manufacturing frozen meals that could be reheated in the sky in 1945, according to the Library of Congress. These “Strato-Plates” featured three compartments (for meat, a vegetable, and potato), and they were incredibly easy to heat and serve.
- These in turn inspired brothers Albert and Meyer Bernstein to start a company called Frozen Dinners Inc. in 1949, which sold frozen dinners in the Pittsburgh area under the brand name One-Eyed Eskimo.
- By 1950, the company had produced over 400,000 frozen dinners. Demand continued to grow, and in 1952 the Bernstein brothers formed the Quaker State Food Corporation. They expanded distribution to markets east of the Mississippi. By 1954, Quaker State Foods had produced and sold over 2,500,000 frozen dinners!
- The concept didn’t go national, however, until 1954, when Swanson Foods, which was already known for its canned and frozen foods, started selling a frozen dinner of its own, which was launched with a huge marketing and advertising push as well as a snappy new name: TV Dinners.
- The first TV dinners produced by Swanson were in answer to a problem they had with Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. Not just a few Tupperware containers, either — we’re talking about 260 tons (235 metric tons) of turkey leftovers.
- 1960 – Swanson added desserts to a new four-compartment tray.
- 1964 – Night Hawk name originated from the Night Hawk steak houses that operated in Austin, Texas from 1939 through 1994. The original diners were open all night catering to the late-night crowd. The restaurants produced the first frozen Night Hawk TV dinner in 1964.
- 1969 – The first TV breakfasts were marketed. Great Starts Breakfasts and breakfast sandwiches followed later.
- 1973 – The first Swanson Hungry-Man dinners were marketed; these were larger portions of its regular dinner products.
- 1986 – The first microwave oven-safe trays were marketed.
- 1986 – The Smithsonian Institute inducted the original Swanson TV Dinner tray into the Museum of American History.
- The Term ‘TV Dinner’ Is Trademarked
- The average American eats approximately 72 frozen meals a year.