From Ohio History Central
The Stouffer Corporation was one of the first companies to produce frozen dinners. The Stouffer Corporation has its roots in a small dairy stand, which Abraham and Mahala Stouffer founded in downtown Cleveland in 1922. After their son Vernon graduated from college and joined the business in 1924, the family opened a restaurant nearby. In a short time, the family operated restaurants not only in Cleveland but also in Detroit and Pittsburgh. During the 1930s, they also opened a restaurant in New York City. The restaurants stressed the importance of offering excellent customer service and quality food to their patrons.
After World War II, the Stouffers opened a restaurant in a Cleveland suburb at Shaker Square. It was here that the family began to expand its operations beyond the restaurants. Customers wanted the convenience of eating Stouffer meals at home. The Shaker Square restaurant began freezing some of its menu offerings, so that customers could purchase the frozen meals and serve them at home. By the mid-1950s, demand for these frozen meals had grown so much that the restaurant kitchen was unable to handle the volume. The Stouffers opened a small processing plant to prepare its frozen dinners for customers. In 1956, the family incorporated this operation into Stouffer Foods.
The Stouffer Corporation was not the only company to produce frozen dinners in the 1950s. C. A. Swanson and Sons began selling its "TV dinners" through supermarkets in 1954. Stouffer originally set itself apart from Swanson's though. The TV dinners targeted the mass market, but Stouffer originally sought the high-end market by touting the quality of its products.
In the early 1960s, Stouffer Foods executives began selling their frozen meals to selected supermarkets. Eventually, the company had to open a new automated plant in Solon, Ohio, to deal with the demand for its products. The Stouffer Corporation was a publicly-traded company by this time. In 1967, Litton Industries bought the company. In 1973, Nestle S.A., a Swiss company, purchased the Stouffer Corporation from Litton Industries. Under Nestle, the frozen food line grew even more. The frozen food division was so successful that the company had to open a new manufacturing operation in Gaffney, South Carolina, in 1980. Only seven years later, a third plant opened in Springville, Utah. Part of the success in the 1980s came from the introduction of another line of frozen dinners, Lean Cuisine, which appealed to health-conscious consumers.