July 5th, 1937 – Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

Today-In-History

Spam was introduced by Hormel Foods Corporation on July 5th, 1937. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item. Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham” or “shoulders of pork and ham”. Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for “Specially Processed American Meat”.

Spam Ad

The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”, and “Special Army Meat”. Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.

Domestically, Spam’s chief advantages were affordability, accessibility, and extended shelf life. However, in spite of Hormel using quality pork shoulder to make their product, rather than the lips, tongue, and snouts used by competitors, consumers could not tell the difference by their appearance.

During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.

spam musubi

Spam musubi, a delicacy in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. British prime minister during the 1980s Margaret Thatcher later referred to it as a “wartime delicacy”. In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army”. Throughout the war countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate Spam.

By the early 1970s the name “Spam” was often misused to describe any tinned meat product containing pork, such as pork luncheon meat. With expansion in communications technology, it became the subject of urban legends about mystery meat and other appearances in pop culture. Most notable was a Monty Python sketch portraying Spam as both ubiquitous and inescapable, characteristics which lent to its name being borrowed for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.


 

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