In 1953, Swanson overestimated the number of frozen turkeys that it would sell on Thanksgiving by 260 tons. The company decided to slice up the extra meat and repackage it–creating the first ever TV dinner.

How 260 Tons of Thanksgiving Leftovers Gave Birth to an Industry

Had my hyperkinetic mother been inclined to meditate, her mantra would have consisted of two brand names: Birds Eye and Swanson. Mom was a working woman in the early 1950s, when that was far from the norm and, in suburban New Jersey, at least, not encouraged. For the record, my mother worked for my father at his real estate office in Westfield. Dad was a handsome man admired by women, and I have long suspected that part of her job was to keep an eye on him. But whatever her motives, she put in her days at the office and then came home to cook for the family, a necessary but unloved chore. So when Birds Eye presented her with frozen peas, she took it as a personal favor and did her best to serve the handy little cryogenic miracles at least f… Continue Reading (4 minute read)

15 thoughts on “In 1953, Swanson overestimated the number of frozen turkeys that it would sell on Thanksgiving by 260 tons. The company decided to slice up the extra meat and repackage it–creating the first ever TV dinner.”

  1. jcd1974

    The genius move was to call them “TV dinners” at the time when television was becoming the must have technology.

  2. johnHF

    While not as culture changing, stuff like this still happens. Example: There are companies that act as cooperatives, like Land O Lakes or Organic Valley (I’m sure many others), so they have to buy all of what their farmers produce. If there is too much supply, they will launch new products as fast as possible to use the farm products.

  3. ThisWorldOfLiars

    “Necessity is the mother of invention”

  4. Popcorn_Blitz

    This idea is why I’m skeptical of “ugly produce” marketing. They already have a use for the less pretty fruit and vegetables- soups, frozen meals, etc…

  5. GlobalConnection3

    Wow, that TV dinner must’ve been huge

  6. marmorset

    I’ve heard this before and I always wonder why someone thought half-a-million more pounds of turkey was going to sell. Were they just extrapolating from previous years and there was a big downturn in turkey sales, did someone add an extra digit, was the forecaster grossly incompetent? That’s a big error, how did that happen?

    And what happened to the person that made that mistake? Some guy in the company figuring out the solution doesn’t change the fact that Swanson had a 260-ton problem on their hands at first.

  7. navin__johnson

    Somebody got fired, and someone else got promoted

  8. Swaaz

    I’ve always wondered what TV dinners would taste like from the 50s and 60s, I feel like they would be much much higher quality.

  9. Acer018

    Turkey tv dinners were the best.

  10. blageur

    By doing so, they not only created the first TV dinner, but also began amassing the enormous wealth and privilege that would give the world the poison that is Tucker Carlson. So really, they’re responsible for leaving a bad taste in your mouth twice.

  11. cancerdancer

    i’ve heard from one of the swanson family members that it was more because of a train breaking down carrying the turkeys. they couldn’t get shipped so they cut them up and made tv tinners.

  12. itsmycreed

    I heard that much of their refrigeration units were in rail cars, so they drove the birds around the country while trying to figure out what to do with them.

    Had to hear this on SYSK.

  13. seanotron_efflux

    And now we have Tucker Carlson

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