SPAM Turns 75 Years Old

SPAM

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No, we’re not talking about that stuff cluttering your email inbox. Instead, this week marks the 75th anniversary of the day that SPAM, the famous tinned pork-meat product, hit store shelves. (The age of the actual cans stashed in the back of your pantry may vary.)

Beloved by millions around the world–including fans of Monty Python and people from Hawaii–SPAM is a lunchmeat product created by Austin, Minnesota-based company Hormel. Despite it’s reputation, what lives packed snugly inside that familiar blue tin isn’t all that mysterious. According to the Hormel website, the “classic” version of SPAM is made from ham, pork shoulder, salt, sugar, water, potato starch, and sodium nitrate.

It was first introduced in 1947, and gained traction during WWII, when it was used to feed the troops overseas. One early advertising strategy was to employ a group of women known as the “Hormel Girls,” who sang and danced the glories of SPAM. (MinnPost.com has a good history on the troupe.) But ultimately, the stuff almost seemed to sell itself–and by 1959, Hormel had sold its 1 billionth can.

“I think we’ve just been woven into the American fabric of traditions,” Nicole Behne, Spam brand senior product manager, told the Austin Daily Herald. “That really helps us stay relevant.”

These days, SPAM is, of course, not just for lunch anymore. One adventurous chef interviewed earlier this year on Seattle’s KMPS even has concocted a recipe for SPAM donuts.

There’s a SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota. And then there’s the annual Spam Jam in Hawaii, where residents consume more SPAM per capita than another other state. Even President Obama, who hails from Hawaii, has been known to snack on SPAM.

Oh, and if you’re wondering whether Hormel was bothered by the ubiquitous use of the term “spam” to describe unwanted emails, well, initially they were–but like everyone else in the world with an electronic inbox, they soon realized the futility of their fight against that unpopular beast.

Besides, as Wired wrote in 2001:  “The theory is that having more people talk and think about spam will cause more people to buy and eat SPAM. After all, deleting e-mail all day builds up an appetite.”

- Kurt Wolff, CBS Local