By: Sydnee Winston, Project Coordinator
It doesn’t get much more American than the TV dinner. The mention of those two words immediately conjures images of a 1950s era family dressed in perfectly starched clothes sitting on their couch with TV dinners on their laps, as an episode of “I Love Lucy” appears on the screen. These neatly partitioned, individual-sized frozen meals of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and dessert (and other foods), have been delighting American families since the 1950s.
The modern frozen dinner entered the American home in 1953, when Swanson and Sons figured out a way to address the irksome conundrum of leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. (Some also attribute the frozen meal to Clarence Birdseye, who developed a system for packaging frozen food back in 1912).
TV Dinners did more than just feed families, their convenience and quick cook time gave women (who usually did all or most of the cooking) more time of their own to pursue jobs and other interests, while still providing a hot meal for their families. One of the first advertisements for Swanson featured a woman pulling a Swanson dinner out of her grocery bag and promising her husband, “I’m late—but dinner won’t be.”
By the end of the second World War, many middle-class families did not have the financial means to have maids help out in the kitchen, something that was common in middle-class homes in the earlier part of the 20th century. Having a ready-made meal also served as a way to re-create that experience.
Check out this ad for a Swanson dinner from 1955:
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