Yes, it’s true, the state of Minnesota has given us many things. Bob Dylan, Garrison Keillor and our own beloved Halspal are the first things that spring to my mind but now those three icons are in danger of being replaced by the discovery and knowledge that SPAM, the meat product, also calls the Gopher State its birthplace and its home.
A Star is Born
I guess things were slow back in Austin, Minnesota back in 1937. The fine folks at Hormel Foods were looking to take a crack at the burgeoning market for canned foods and decided to mix up some pork and ham and other assorted gelling agents and SPAM was born. Its appeal to the public was immediate. Just coming out of the ravages of the Great Depression, Americans took to SPAM right off the bat. It was low to moderately priced, convenient and after standing in soup and bread lines, the taste probably came as a refreshing change. By the time 1941 rolled around over 40 million pounds of SPAM had been sold.
Uncle Sam Wants You!
It wasn’t long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese that SPAM was called upon to do its patriotic duty. The fires burned deep into the night at the Hormel processing plant and soon 15 million cans of SPAM a week were shipped overseas and fueled American and Allied forces and helped steel their resolve to drive the Nazis back to Germany. Along the way, the soldiers would pass refugees from war torn towns and as a gesture of good will would hand out cans of SPAM to help feed their starving bellies. After the war was over, such esteemed world leaders as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and even Nikita Khrushcev went on to sing the praises of SPAM and the role it played in the Allied victory.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
With the help of radio advertising, SPAM had become a staple of the American diet. It was one of the first products to use the gift of song to promote itself and star entertainers of the day such as George Burns and Gracie Allen began touting it on their weekly radio broadcast. Hormel recognized that they had a good thing in the works and in 1945 put together an act that called themselves the Hormel Girls and soon SPAM was about to embark on a cross country tour to some of the largest cities in America.
SPAM Goes Global
It wasn’t long before word of mouth got out and out and neighbors from around the world began clamoring for their share of SPAM. Soon, locations in Denmark, the Phillipines, Japan and South Korea were built to meet worldwide production demands. Today, SPAM is distributed in forty one countries and six continents.
Milestones (or, that’s a lot of SPAM)
Long before Roy Kroc and his evil empire known as McDonalds ever dreamt of selling “billions and billions” of what they call hamburgers, SPAM had claimed their niche in the market place. Although Ronald McDonald and friends would eventually eclipse the fine folks at Hormel, SPAM’s one billionth can rolled off the assembly line way back in 1959. It would take only another eleven years in 1970 for SPAM’s two billionth can to be produced. Ten years later in 1980, the three billionth can and a mere six years later in 1986, the four billionth can. SPAM slumped in the market place and it took them another eight years to crack the five billion mark when they did so in 1994.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
SPAM had itself a good run for almost six decades but America was changing. Families were getting smaller, there were more and more single folks out there in the market place and sales had begun to slump. Something had to be done. Perhaps they recognized the wisdom of their same state neighbor Bob Dylan and the words in his immortal song when in 1962 the original twelve ounce can of SPAM found a smaller, more compact seven ounce version of the same product next to it on the shelves of your neighborhood grocery store.
By the time the 1970’s had rolled around, SPAM shocked the market place when they introduced a smoke flavored version of the product America had grown to know and love. A few years later, in response to a diet and health conscious wave that was sweeping the nation, SPAM invented a version of itself that contained less sodium. Following in its footsteps, SPAM lite was introduced in 1992 and the amount of fat and sodium used in the original recipe was lowered. The year 1999 saw the birth of SPAM that was made from oven roasted turkey. The spokesman for the company claims that the product is made from 100% lean white turkey meat. Not one to rest on their laurels and to keep up with the changing taste of American families, SPAM teamed up with the folks at Tabasco and rolled out a hot and spicy version of the all time classic. SPAM has also test marketed another two versions, one is “SPAM with cheese” and another is a barbecued flavored version.
A Celebration of SPAM
Stealing a page from the folks at Betty Crocker, SPAM started to hold annual recipe contests. Mostly they were done at state and local fairs and recipes from around the country began to pour in. The winner in 2003 was a delicacy known as Curried SPAM and Rice. SPAM also boasts an official fan club that numbers over 9,000 strong.
To keep up with the ever changing times, SPAM hit the internet when they opened their site at www.spam.com and received an additional honor when the people at the Smithsonian Institution added their original product and unique packaging to their historical archives.
SPAM even has its own museum. The birthplace of SPAM, Austin, Minnesota has erected a 16,500 square foot building that is all SPAM all the time. Not to be outdone, the town also hosts something that they call SPAM Jam and every year about 20,000 SPAM enthusiasts from far and wide converge on the town to pay homage to SPAM and its humble origins.
SPAM on Spam
The following statement was lifted from http://www.spam.com/ci/ci_in.htm and addresses the issue of trademark usage of the term SPAM.
We do not object to use of this slang term to describe UCE (Unsolicited Commercial E-mail), although we do object to the use of the word "spam" as a trademark and to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.
Some other noders have offered up various insights regarding their personal knowledge of SPAM. Here's a random few to whet your appetite.
karma debt says re Spam: Yo.. don't forget that the name SPAM is derived from "Spiced Ham"
RACECAR says I can get you a SPAM tshirt if you want. Also, SPAM is really popular in Hawaii and they also serve SPAM sushi (with pineapple) at some of our Sushi joints up here. Peace in the Middle East and Merry x-mas Bob.
Ouroboros says re Spam: What about the State of Hawaii being the top SPAM consuming area of the country? And there were rumors that Hormel won a governor's award for high technology product, for SPAM, in like 1999.
wertperch says re Spam: This, THIS. This is why I like E2.
DylanDog says re Spam: There is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in lovely Austin, doubtless showing the cultured tastes of SPAM managers.