FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

No Work, No Dishes

In 1954, C.A. Swanson & Sons in Omaha, Nebraska, introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The portable TV dinner tapped into Americans’ excitement over television, allowing families to eat in front of their new sets.

TV dinner tray, about 1954

The aluminum tray allowed the frozen meal to go straight from freezer to oven. The compartments that kept different foods from touching each other were very popular with kids. Gift of Campbell Soup Company.

View object record

TV tray table, 1960s

By 1960, nearly 90 percent of American homes had a television. Inexpensive folding-tray tables were made for eating in front of the TV and became an alternative to the family dinner table.

View object record
Ad for TV Dinners, about 1954

Ad for TV Dinners, about 1954

Ad for International TV Dinners, 1968

Ad for International TV Dinners, 1968

Responding to a growing interest in foreign cuisine, Swanson expanded the frozen product line in the 1960s to include Americanized international foods.