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Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkey Leftovers Inspired the Invention of the TV Dinner

Posted By on Fri, Nov 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM


As you stare into the abyss of your refrigerator today, contemplating days of turkey leftovers with equal parts glee (as long as the stuffing and gravy hold out) and dread (everything that happens after that), be glad that you don't have 520,000 pounds of frozen turkeys to dispose of, like Swanson did in 1953. As the story goes, the frozen food company had massively overestimated the number of turkeys Americans would buy and eat that year and didn't know what they were going to do with the surplus. The only way to keep the turkeys frozen was to keep them on refrigerated railroad cars, which needed to remain in constant motion to keep their electricity on. Clearly, something needed to be done, so the company challenged its employees to come up with a solution.

See also:

- The 20 Most Significant Food Inventions in History

- Great Moments in San Francisco Food History: Popsicles

- Was Diet Responsible for the Salem Witch Trials?

Enter traveling salesman Gerry Thomas, who had the idea to re-package the leftover birds in turkey dinners, and take advantage of the television craze sweeping the country, by serving them in neat little containers just like he'd seen on Pan-Am airlines. And the TV dinner was born.

Swanson wasn't the first company to invent frozen dinners -- the credit for that goes to Clarence Birdseye -- but it was the first to put food in separate components. The TV dinner was an instant hit, and by the end of the first year, Swanson had sold more than 10 million of 'em.

Bring up that fun fact during your dinner of leftovers today.

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About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


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