Learn the history behind these quick, convenient frozen meals that changed family dinnertime forever.
Indigenous people shared lessons in freezing food
In 1930, inventor and naturalist Clarence Birdseye launched the first line of frozen foods under the label Birds Eye Frosted Food Co. He learned about flash freezing from Inuit fishermen while living in Labrador, Canada. Make sure you know these foods you should never keep in the freezer.
Frozen meals were first served in taverns and airplanes
Extra vegetables from his victory garden-inspired W.L. Maxson to create Strato-Plates in 1945, one of the first complete frozen meals. They were designed for reheating and serving on military and civilian airplanes. Jack Fisher created FridgiDinners in the 1940s for use as convenient meals in U.S. taverns. Check out these vintage photos that show how glamorous flying used to be.
Pittsburgh home cooks tested frozen entrees
Frozen Dinners Inc. sold One-Eyed Eskimo meals, the first frozen entrees for the home, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1949. After finding success locally, the company expanded across the country and changed names. Quaker State Food Corp. sold 2.5 million entrees by 1954. These are a few foods you had no idea you could freeze.
Swanson turned surplus turkey into success
In 1953, Betty Cronin, a C.A. Swanson & Sons bacteriologist, figured out how meat, potatoes, and vegetables could be heated at one temperature for the same amount of time. An oft-repeated story says Swanson turned excess Thanksgiving turkey into success by filling an aluminum tray with turkey supper fixings. The company marketed its frozen meals to busy women in the workforce. “I’m late—but dinner won’t be,” touted one 1950s ad. Make sure you know these extraordinary uses for everyday foods.
Genius marketing sold millions of TV Dinners
Frozen meals took off big-time in 1954 when Swanson dubbed them “TV Dinners.” As a result, sales hit 25 million by the end of the year. The portable trays were easy to reheat. And people enjoyed eating in front of the newfangled television sets that were fast becoming centerpieces of American living rooms. Even the packaging of the meals looked like a TV, complete with images of a screen and control knobs. Here are a few old-school recipes that deserve a comeback.
More changes increased convenience
The trays gained a fourth compartment to accommodate dessert in 1960. Swanson dropped the name “TV Dinners” in 1962 because the meals could be eaten for lunch, too. Or even breakfast. And in 1986, the popularity of microwaves prompted Swanson to switch from aluminum to plastic trays. Next, learn about these foods you had no idea you could microwave.