The 1950s Origins Of The Frozen Pizza

As much as we all love a loaded homemade pizza or a delectable restaurant version, we've all had those nights where just about all we can muster the energy for, come dinner time, is plopping right onto the couch — but not before popping a frozen pizza into the oven to enjoy in a half-awake state about 20 minutes later. And as far as frozen food indulgences go, pizza is a pretty ideal one: Pizza freezes very well, according to Fine Dining Lovers, and well-wrapped, flash-frozen commercial pies can often taste just as good as fresh ones. It's no wonder, then, that Americans love them: Two out of three households report consuming frozen pizza regularly, according to CreditDonkey.

Most of us probably don't remember a time before frozen pizza, but your parents or grandparents certainly might. CNBC reports that the treat began taking off in the early 1950s, preceded by refrigerated, ready-to-bake pies. Since then, of course, the industry has become a titan, with leading frozen pizza brand DiGiorno taking in more than a billion in sales in 2019 alone (via Statista).

A 'Neapolitan pastry' beloved by Americans

According to Serious Eats, pizza was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants beginning in the early 1900s, when an enormous wave of Southern Italians looking to escape the impoverished conditions of their home country flooded cities such as New York, New Haven, and Boston. A novel food, of course, to the longer-established groups living in the States, pizza quickly took off, with Gennaro Lombardi opening the country's first licensed pizza shop on Little Italy's Spring Street in 1905.

By the 1940s and '50s, Serious Eats reports, even more Americans were getting to know pizza as GIs stationed in Italy during World War II returned craving the stuff, and pizzerias really began to open in earnest. At the same time, CNBC notes, American households were obtaining home freezers — a combination that paved the way for the advent of frozen pizzas.

A 1950 New York Times article describes a Boston company offering refrigerated, ready-to-bake "Neapolitan pastr[ies];" in the same year, a circular for the now-defunct Kelsey's grocery store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, advertised frozen pizzas for 33 cents each. The first mammoth frozen pizza manufacturer, Totino's, was founded in Minnesota in 1962, CNBC reports, followed by Mama Celeste's, Tombstone, and Red Baron brands. In 1995, Kraft Foods introduced DiGiorno frozen pizzas, whose "rising crust" puffs up in the oven, much to consumers' delight: The brand has been #1 in the game since the late 1990s.