Swanson TV Dinners

Photo of Swanson TV Dinner Package 1950s 1960s
Swanson TV Dinner packaging was designed to look like a television set from the 1950s and 1960s.

Swanson TV Dinners

Food waste remains a massive problem in the world and TV dinners may have been one creative solution. In 1953, Gerry Thomas was inspired by the neat compartmentalization of the metal trays that were used to serve meals on airplanes. He decided that he could do something special with the heaps of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving at the Swanson Company in Omaha, Nebraska.

Yes, Nebraska is the beef state, and only has one turkey processing plant. You’ll find it in Gibbon, Nebraska where they process over 55 million pounds of turkey (close relatives of pheasants) each year.

Thomas pitched his innovative idea to the Swanson brothers and in 1953, the TV dinner craze swept across America with each complete meal going for a mere 98 cents per set. Swanson TV Dinners were iconic, prepared with little to no effort and contained peas, bread and of course, turkey bits.

In 1954, the first full year of production, over 10 million Swanson’s TV dinners we sold in America.

Over 10 million sets of Swanson TV dinners were sold within the first year of business, much to the amazement of the team. The success was largely owed to the strategic marketing efforts by the company. The campaign portrayed a warm meal intimately prepared by a happy housewife, which immediately resonated with people who were missing home-cooked food.

Magazine ad for Swanson TV Dinners “Turkey Dinner on a Tray” 1950s

The menu for the frozen meals expanded in time as popularity rose for their convenience. It was not long after that desserts and pastries began to hit the shelves of the frozen foods section.

In 1973, TV Dinners were up-sized when the parent company of Swanson Dinners released a series of large meals known as Hungry-Man.
Although these days, frozen dinners can range from a massive pizza to a ravioli with special dietary concessions, it was Swanson TV Dinners that started the hype, as a means of reducing food waste.

The invention of the TV Dinner and interview with Jerry Thomas, its creator

Swanson TV Dinners sponsored the first season of the Donna Reed show in 1958

Jerry Seinfeld on Swanson TV Dinners.

(Funny, but we disagree on most of his points.)



1 Comment

  1. I had this website bookmarked a while before but my computer crashed. I have since gotten a new one and it took me a while to come across this! I also really like the design though.

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