I’m late, but dinner won’t be

There are things all around us so ubiquitous, so woven into the fabric of life, that it’s almost impossible to imagine that they were not part of the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe.  Take, for example, one of my favorite things in the world — the Egg McMuffin at McDonald's.  In 1972, Herb Peterson, the franchisee and operator of the McDonald's at 3940 State Street in Santa Barbara, California, was initially reprimanded and penalized by McDonald’s corporate for breaking his franchise agreement by serving, as president Ray Kroc wrote in Grinding It Out:  The Making of McDonald’s:

...a crazy idea — a breakfast sandwich. It consisted of an egg that had been formed in a Teflon circle with the yolk broken, and was dressed with a slice of cheese and a slice of grilled ham. It was served open-faced on a toasted and buttered English muffin. The advent of the Egg McMuffin opened up a whole new area of potential business for McDonald's, the breakfast trade.

McDonald's Breakfast

And now, there is an entire breakfast menu!

The Egg McMuffin is only 45 years old!

Today in America is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday which, more than any other, is synonymous with a home-cooked meal.  But back in 1953, 64 years ago, someone whose name we will never know made a colossal mistake and gave birth to an entirely new industry.

The holiday came and went.  The table had been set, the family gathered ‘round it to watch the man of the house carve up the bird and serve all the trimmin’s his wife had prepared; there had been pumpkin pie, followed by sitting on the sofa in the living room arguing about President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon with Uncle Joe who still liked Truman.  And when folks got back to work on Monday at the C.A. Swanson & Sons Company — oh dear!  260 tons of frozen turkeys in 10 refrigerated railroad cars.  Yes, TONS.

A meeting was held to lay blame and fire somebody for miscalculating product demand so badly, because everyone could see that this meant a huge loss for the company after what should have been its most profitable weekend of the year.  The mood was somber.  Heads will roll!

Swanson TV dinner

But it only takes one of those heads to have an idea, an idea as crazy as a burger joint serving breakfast sandwiches.  Necessity may be the mother of invention, but a guy not wanting to get fired is its father!  Gerry Thomas was a salesman at Swanson and he’d flown all over the United States selling his company’s products, forced to eat the pre-packaged meals airlines served on little trays.  Looking out at the boxcars filled with unsold turkeys, he convinced the powers-that-be to order 5,000 aluminum trays, and then to recruit an assembly line of women armed with spatulas and ice-cream scoops to “assemble” them — a simple meal of turkey (of course) dressed with corn-bread stuffing and gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes (both topped with a pat of butter) — freeze, box, and ship these complete meals to grocery stores around the country.

Mr. Thomas and Swanson introduced America and the world to the first TV dinner at a price of 98 ¢ (those are Eisenhower-era cents, btw) and crossed their fingers.

Doubtful they had “solved” their turkey problem, they turned to Madison Avenue.

A stylish woman wearing a smart green pant suit, a pert feathered hat, and black gloves takes a Swanson "TV Dinner" out of a grocery bag; she’s obviously been out, her pink purse still on her arm.  In the background sits her husband, in a tan suit and a bow tie, reading his newspaper after a long day at the office.  A clock on the wall reads five after six — dinner should be on the table!  But he is smiling his approval of his wife’s efficiency.  Horribly sexist I know, but hey… it’s 1954; television is new, pre-packaged dinners are new!  She says, glancing at her watch:

“I’m late — but dinner won’t be.”

1954, the first full year of production, ten million frozen pre-packaged turkey dinners were sold by Swanson, and now the item has an entire aisle at the grocery store!

Copyright © 2021 matthewwilkinson.net — all rights reserved.