Gerry Thomas


Gerry Thomas

Gerry Thomas (1922 – 2005) was an American salesman sometimes credited with inventing the TV Dinner in 1952. Thomas, who worked for the Swanson food company in the 1950s and went public with his account decades later, said he designed the company's famous three-compartment aluminum tray after seeing a similar tray used by Pan Am Airways. [Hirsch, Arthur. "Tray chic," Baltimore Sun, Feb. 5, 2003] He also said he coined the name "TV Dinner," brainstormed the idea of having the packaging resemble a TV set, and contributed the recipe for the cornbread stuffing. Thomas later said he was uncomfortable with being called the "Father" of the TV dinner, because he felt he just built upon existing ideas.Fact|date=February 2008 Thomas became a marketing and sales executive after Swanson was acquired by Campbell Soup in 1955. He retired in 1970 after suffering a heart attack, then did consultancy and directed an art gallery in Arizona. Thomas' wife described him as a gourmet cook who "never ate the TV dinners." [Associated Press, "Gerry Thomas, inventor of the TV Dinner, dies at 83," July 20, 2005]

In recent years, Thomas' TV Dinner role was disputed by former Swanson and Campbell employees, frozen food industry officials, and Swanson family heirs, who said the product was created by the Swanson brothers, Clarke and Gilbert. [Rivenburg, Roy. "A landmark idea, yes, but whose?" "Los Angeles Times", Nov. 23, 2003, p. E1] (M. Crawford Pollock, who was Swanson's in-house marketing chief at the time, was also said to have played a role.) After Thomas' death in 2005, a Los Angeles Times opinion article that labeled him a "charlatan" spurred other newspapers to reexamine the TV Dinner's origins. [Editor & Publisher, "Media Bites on Turkey of a Story," Aug. 1, 2005] Keeler, Janet. "Self Promoter Heated, Served an Urban Legend," St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 8, 2005] [] [Roberts, Michelle, "Disputed Credit: Who Really Served Up the TV Dinner?" Associated Press, Aug. 4, 2005] [Philadelphia Inquirer, "Was the TV-dinner story overcooked?" Aug. 5, 2005] . As a result, dozens of publications printed retractions on obituaries that had called Thomas the TV Dinner inventor. The New York Times said that although Thomas was "widely reported to have had the inspiration, there have been competing claims, including one from the Swanson family that W. Clarke Swanson, an owner of the company in the 1950's, had the idea." [New York Times correction, Aug. 8, 2005] However, Pinnacle Foods, which currently owns Swanson, still credits Thomas with proposing the TV Dinner concept. [ [http://www.pinnaclefoodscorp.com/public/brands/swanson.htm Pinnacle Foods web site] ] And an Arizona Republic editorial termed the debate over his TV Dinner involvement "surprisingly vindictive." [Arizona Republic, "A TV Dinner Dust-up: Who Knew?" Aug. 13, 2005]

The Library of Congress says the history of the TV Dinner is murky, but notes that frozen dinners existed several years before Swanson made the idea famous. [ [http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/tvdinner.html Library of Congress - Who “invented” the TV dinner?] ]

References

External links

* [http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-op-tvdinner31jul31,1,6644824.story second of two Los Angeles Times articles questioning Thomas' claims]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11392923 Find A Grave: Gerry Thomas]


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