On this date, January 6, in 1954, the first commercially successful TV dinner made its public debut in a New York Times article. The article informed its readers that C.A. Swanson & Sons of Omaha would soon be distributing a frozen turkey dinner to grocery store shelves for a purchase price of about $1, marketed under the “TV Dinner” Swanson brand.
The 12-oz meal included white and dark turkey slices, cornbread sage dressing and gravy, green peas, and mashed sweet potatoes, plated on an aluminum foil tray with a foil top. The product, which took 25 minutes to prepare, was so successful that that it was followed six months later by Swanson's "TV Fried Chicken Dinner".
It was also followed by a host of competitors. This commercial, produced in 1965, advertised Chef's Pantry brand frozen dinners and foods, including a Sloppy Joe meal, Salisbury steak with tomato sauce, beef barbecue, and macaroni and beef. The product was sold by Grill Meats, Inc., a company founded in Sandusky, Ohio by Sam S. Stein in 1940. At the time of its founding, the company's sole product was a line of pre-formed burger patties, which Stein marketed to local restaurants. In the 1950s, the company expanded into the frozen meat industry.
Stein also operated a number of affiliated companies, including Sam Stein Associates, founded in 1956 to manufacture food processing equipment and machinery. The Chef's Pantry brand, however, was the best commercially known brand associated with his work. It was purchased by Oscar Meyer & Co. in 1979, alongside Stein's Powell Valley Foods line.
The commercial was created by Cinecraft Productions, a Cleveland production company founded in 1939 by Ray Culley (1904-1983) and Betty (Buehner) Culley (1914-2016). The company, which still operates today, specialized in commercial productions for business, industry, trade organizations, and, in some cases, government agencies and social service organizations, work that currently allows it to proclaim itself the “country's longest-standing corporate film & video production house.”
It is part of Hagley Library's collection of Cinecraft Productions films (Accession 2019.227). This collection includes motion pictures, still images, scripts and related production documents from the company's founding into the early 1980s with the bulk covering the 1950s to the 1970s. The collection has not been digitized in its entirety but we are currently making frequent additions; click here to view it online now in our Digital Archive.