FFF (Facts, Fallacies and Fascetiousness) Friday: Frozen TV Dinners

tvdinnerI was looking around for a Thanksgiving food-related piece of history and came across several articles about the invention of frozen TV dinners.  One part of the story has been around for years:

In 1953 someone at Swanson Foods overestimated the number of turkeys needed for Thanksgiving.  What Swanson was left with was 260 tons of frozen bird sitting in refrigerated rail cars — and then the rail cars had to be run from Nebraska to the east coast and back to generate refrigeration.  A salesperson, Gerry Thomas, came up with an idea to emulate the airline practice of serving pre-prepared food in a tray and presented it to the company.

The Los Angeles Times investigated the story in 2003 and was able to get Thomas to admit that the story about the trains running back and forth between Nebraska and the east coast was only meant to be a “metaphor”.

According to a Library of Congress-related website, Betty Cronin, a bacteriologist working for Swanson at the time says it was the Swanson Brothers who came up with the concept.  Ms. Cronin worked on the project to roll-out the new product, making sure all items in the tray would cook in the same amount of time (synchronization).  She also developed the fried chicken batter.

NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine.  This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here:  www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription here.


  1. We never sat down as a family in front of the TV during dinner. However, i do remember having the Turkey Swanson’s TV dinners when my parents were working late and we needed something to eat. As a kid I loved the Turkey Dinners.

  2. Oops – posted by Denise

  3. It’s a common misunderstanding that the boxes were made to look like a television set. If you actually look at them, you’ll see they’re made up of three triangles, and don’t look like a tv at all.

  4. I grew up eating these things and even fondly remember Swanson’s Chinese food version that came out in the last 60s. I can still taste it even now. Strong memories!


Leave a Comment