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Thanksgiving Turkey and Television

Posted by Judy on Nov 3rd 2019

Millions of people sit down to a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Millions also watch television at some point during the day. But a mistake by a major food company in 1950s resulted in millions of people combining turkey and television all year long.

In 1952, the Swanson company accidentally ordered a colossal shipment (260 tons) of Thanksgiving turkeys. In desperation, the company asked employees to help them find ways to use the 520,000 pounds of bird. Legend credits Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas for realizing the potential of a compartmentalized aluminum tray. On a visit to Maxson Food, he saw the “Strato Plates” that Pan American Airways was testing as a way to serve hot foods on long flights. The resulting TV Dinner consisted of a similar plate filled with turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes and buttered peas. It sold for 98 cents. Approximately 10 million meals were sold that first year.

Naming the product TV Dinner was one of the keys to its huge success. In the early 1950s, television was a new and fascinating medium. There were only three or four hours of programming each day, generally in the late afternoon and early evening when meals were being prepared and served. With the TV Dinner, people could eat while gathered around the television set watching their favorite family shows.