There’s no need to change the channel, you’re reading it correctly: September 10 is National TV Dinner Day!
We sort of did this before when we celebrated National Frozen Food Day back in March, though that holiday never specified a TV dinner. It may surprise you to learn that C.A. Swanson & Sons actually trademarked the name “TV Brand Frozen Dinner” in 1954. They didn’t invent frozen, compartmentalized meals, but they were the first to achieve mass-market success with the product. In 1944, William L. Maxson’s frozen dinners were being served on airplanes. The first frozen dinners packaged in oven-ready aluminum trays appeared under the name brand One-Eye Eskimo in 1952; their “Frigi-Dinner” entrees included beef stew with corn and peas, veal goulash with peas and potatoes, and chicken chow mein with egg rolls and fried rice. But it was Swanson’s, with a well-known brand name and extensive marketing campaign called “Operation Smash,” that was able to convince the general public that their TV dinners were convenient and tasty. Their first offering was a Thanksgiving meal consisting of turkey, cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes. The name “TV dinner” actually referred to the shape of the tray: the main entree was located in a large compartment on one side of the tray, and the vegetables lined up in smaller compartments on the other side, similar to the layout of a 1950s television set with a screen on the left, and the speaker and controls on the right. They sold for 98 cents and were cooked at 425°F for 25 minutes.
Over the years, the meals evolved. A wider variety of main courses was introduced, and the name “TV dinner” was officially dropped from packaging in the 1960s. In 1986, the familiar aluminum trays were replaced with microwave-safe trays. The original Swanson metal TV dinner tray was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute to honor its place in American culture, and Swanson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999.
Like them or loathe them, TV dinners are an important part of American history (and a reminder of a more innocent era). To celebrate, Tara and I were rebellious and had TV dinners…for LUNCH. ‘Cause that’s how we roll. I went with turkey, she chose salisbury steak. The portions weren’t huge, and actually made a pretty decent midday meal!
- Peeling Back the Foil: The Origin of the TV Dinner (todayifoundout.com)
- September 10th: National TV Dinner Day (kag417.wordpress.com)
- 15 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in September (mentalfloss.com)