In 1937, the George A. Hormel Company, a meat-packing business in Austin, Minnesota, introduced SPAM luncheon meat to use up an excess of pork shoulder in their inventory. In the eighty years since its introduction, SPAM has fed millions of people and is available in more than forty countries and in over fifteen varieties and sizes.
George A. Hormel, a child of German immigrants, was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1860. After working in the meat packing industry, he moved to Austin, Minnesota, and started the George A. Hormel Company at the age of thirty-one. His one son, Jay, became company president when George retired after leading the company for thirty-six years. (In 1993, the company’s name changed to Hormel Foods Corporation.)
In the late 1930s, Jay Hormel awarded Kenneth Daigneau a $100 prize for suggesting the name SPAM for the company’s new pork product. Daigneau’s original intended meaning is unclear, but it is thought to be an abbreviation of Spiced Ham. It could also be an acronym for Spiced Ham Austin Minnesota, or Shoulder of Pork And Ham. During severe World War II-era rationing in Britain, it was also known as Supply Processed American Meat and was greatly appreciated by the citizens who used it to supplement sparse meals.
In the 1940s, Hormel supported the World War II effort by shipping more than one million cans of SPAM abroad to feed Allied troops and civilians. It is ideal for mass feeding since it does not require refrigeration and has a long expiration date. SPAM was so readily available for military meals, often two or three a day, that many would not eat it when they returned home to their civilian lives. In an early recycling program, flattened SPAM cans were soldered on airplane bomber wings and fuselages to cover and patch bullet holes created by enemy bullets. The cans were also reshaped to make military cookware. During World War II, 1,751 Hormel employees were in the military; sixty-seven of them died while serving.
Early advertising used catchy phrases and full-page color ads to promote SPAM. A 1960s advertisement stated that “you can serve it cold, you can serve it hot, you can slice it, dice it, bake it, fry it.” As time progressed, the varieties of SPAM produced by Hormel expanded to match the tastes of their fans and worldwide markets. A can of SPAM Classic, the original SPAM, consists of pork, ham, and five other basic ingredients—salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Other varieties include turkey, hickory smoke, hot and spicy, jalapeno, teriyaki, chorizo, Portuguese sausage seasoning, and mezclita (Puerto Rican-inspired, with red pepper and cheese).
When visiting Hawaii, a Minnesotan may be surprised to find musubi in convenience stores and on restaurant menus alongside pizza and hamburgers. Composed of fried SPAM and a cake of rice in a wrapper of seaweed, musubi is a popular Hawaiian food, as are other SPAM creations that use Asian or tropical ingredients. Hawaiians have eaten SPAM ever since World War II, and they consume more than seven million cans a year. Sales of SPAM in South Korea rank second worldwide, with the United States first. Introduced in Korea by Americans during the Korean War, budae jjigae (army stew) is made with SPAM Classic, hot pepper paste, onions, ramen noodles, and kimchi.
The Great American SPAM Championship is an annual contest sponsored by Hormel and held at twenty-six state and county fairs throughout the United States. Entrants use any variety of SPAM, and up to ten additional ingredients, to create a recipe judged for taste and simplicity. The cooks compete for prizes at the local level and for a trip to the SPAM Jam Festival, held each year in Hawaii. In 2016, the winning recipe at the festival, Gemütlichkeit SPAMwich, was made with SPAM, bacon, a pretzel bun, cabbage slaw, and mustard.
In 2016, Hormel moved its SPAM museum — open since 1991 — to a building in downtown Austin. Featured are displays about SPAM and World War II, the history of SPAM throughout the world, the history of other Hormel Foods and products, and a gift shop with a variety of SPAM-related products, such as whimsical SPAM-can earrings.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.