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SPAM, the Iconic Canned Meat, Celebrates 75th Birthday

SPAM®, the canned meat Monty Python sang about and the meat product whose name is now used to label unwanted bulk e-mail messages, is about to celebrate its 75th birthday.

Hormel Foods Corp. is putting on the birthday bash at its Austin, MN processing plant where it now turns out 110 million pounds of SPAM® per year. Hormel promises a “Spamtastic” event on July 28, headlined by The Temptations.

This description is probably fitting for a product with its own museum (also in Austin) that hails SPAM® as ” a war hero, pop culture icon, and an American institution.”

Back in 1937, though, Hormel was just looking for a name for its new canned pork shoulder product.

One story goes that the name came from actor Kenneth Daigneau, who attended a drinking party where Hormel put up a $100 prize for whoever could come up with the best name.

Whether or not this is true, SPAM®, short for spiced ham, was born that year – some say just in time – as the new canned meat turned out to be just as critical in winning World War II as the landing crafts known as Higgins Boats or the famous Willy’s Jeeps.

An army travels on its stomach. During each week of the war, Hormel delivered 15 million cans of SPAM®  to Allied armies around the world.  Hormel’s wartime marketing slogan  for SPAM® was a “miracle in a can.”

Few Americans returned from the war claiming to have developed a taste for SPAM®. Most considered it as nothing more than part of the C-ration diets that they hoped never to have to eat again.

But throughout Asia and the Pacific it was a different story. As the war’s end neared and the American military began distributing food to local populations, SPAM®  was the most sought-after offering.

Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa, Saipan, Guam and Hawaii all emerged from the war liking  SPAM®, and continue to demand it today.

Monty Python did not get around to satirizing SPAM® until 1970 when the British comedy trope aired a skit and song about a man trying to order something for breakfast that did not contain SPAM®.

It made such an impression that almost 25 years later, the name stood out when a moniker was needed to describe unwanted e-mail and other messages, now including text messages.

Hormel tired swimming against the tide for several years, objecting to the use of its SPAM® trademark for calling out the unwanted on the Internet. It finally settled on just asking that SPAM® be capitalized when referring to its meat product and written in lower case when referring to unwanted messages.

Today the canned meat comes in 12 varieties, including Classic, Classic Singles, Less Sodium, Oven Roasted Turkey, Jalapeno, Bacon, Cheese, Hot and Spicy, Black Pepper, Hickory Smoke, Lite, Lite Singles, and SPAM® spread.

SPAM®  has also been among Hormel’s most problem-free products from a food safety perspective. The last recall of the product on record was in 1998 when metal fragments got into some SPAM® at its Fremont, NE plant (where the product is also made) causing Hormel to recall 18,000 cans.

© Food Safety News
  • jon gawne

    The comment about soldiers eating SPAM in WW2 is incorrect. With a few minor instances the Army DID NOT purchase SPAM for the troops. 99.99% fo all SPAM made went to civilian food relief stocks and sent to Britain and Russia, then later the French, Belgiums and then Germans. The loved it.
    What the Army did buy for the troops were the poorer qualitry imitations of SPAM. This means the troops were eating “spam lookalikes” and not true SPAM. Sady, it was of an inferior quality. Thus it got a bad rap.
    Don’t beleive me? Ask the company itslef.

  • J.T.

    Spam is a clever utilitarian product with real value. It’s a tasty treat once in a while. Wouldn’t want to have to make a steady diet of it, like GIs did in WWII. Just a good old workingman’s approach to dealing with eating. That’s why elitists hate it so, I suppose…it smacks of the bourgeois ordinary American family too busy and interested in life to become pathologically obsessed with silly food fads and bogus health myths. Congratulations to Hormel on their 75th anniversary of a good sensible product enjoyed by happy healthy families worldwide.

  • Jon

    Goes to show that some people will eat just about everything. An ingredient list of EVERYTHING that is in this highly processed canned meat product would be a useful addition to this story…

  • James

    I have Loved Spam for 44 Years . It always went into My Pack in the Army , Marines and as a Kontractor !

  • Minkpuppy

    “But I don’t like Spam!” :-D

  • Dr. Smith

    Jon-
    Here is the useful addition you requested.
    Ingredients for Classic SPAM: Pork with Ham, Salt, Water, Modified Potato Starch, Sugar, Sodium Nitrite.
    Sodium nitrite is perfectly safe when used in proper concentrations and has prevented countless deaths from botulism in canned meat products.

  • JT

    …and then there’s the ingredients not on the label: antibiotics, hormones and other therapeutic and non-therapeutic (weight-gaining) drugs in their feed during their lifespan plus pesticide and GMO residues in their feed — yummie stuff indeed……

  • CB

    The first cans of spam packed 75 years ago are probably still edible.

  • hawaii born

    happy birthday spam…you are da 14 KARAT of HAWAII. we moved to washington and the people here think im gross for eating that…im so hungry now for a musubi

  • hafadai

    Growing up in the Western Pacific, SPAM is “heavenly meat”. You wouldn’t understand unless you grew up in the islands. Who would not like SPAM Musubi? Even President Obama who grew up in Hawaii likes it. The truth is, SPAM is the spice of life!