Birth of SPAM: July 5, 1937

One of the more popular—and ridiculed—foods of the 20th century makes its debut when George A. Hormel & Company launches a new product it calls SPAM luncheon meat.  It’s mainly pork shoulder, a part of the pig that generally was thrown away because it was too fatty for ham, but not fatty enough for bacon.  At, first, the company simply had called it Hormel Spiced Meat, but switches to SPAM as a result of  a contest to come up with another name (The winner was awarded $100.).

Why SPAM?  One company spokesman said it’s meant to be short for “Shoulder pork and ham.”  A later story contended that it stands for “Spiced meat and ham.”  It would later be given   more unflattering names, such as “Something posing as meat.”

At 10 cents a can, though, it’s a big hit.  Within a year, one out of every five American families—with the worst of the Great Depression still fresh in their memories--make SPAM a part of their diets.  It really took  off in World War II because it could  easily be shipped overseas and stored.  SPAM became a staple of the American GIs diet, served meal after meal.  Overall, Hormel sent 100 million pounds of SPAM overseas during the war.

As much as they might have complained about it, a lot of soldiers returned home with a taste for SPAM and business kept growing during the 1950s.  Near the end of the decade, the 1 billionth can of SPAM rolled off the assembly line.

In 1971, Hormel came out with its first variation, SPAM with chunks of cheese. Over the years, it added a version with bacon, another with turkey, a “hot and spicy” variety, and for SPAM’s 75th birthday in 2012, versions with black pepper and with jalapenos.  But the company also tried to respond to concerns that SPAM isn’t a particularly healthy food, what with all its fat and sodium.  It brought out a version with 25 percent less sodium in 1986 and SPAM Lite, with 25 percent less sodium and 25 less fat in 1992.  (Three years later, SPAM Lite had 50 percent less fat.)

So how nutritious is SPAM?    A single 100-gram helping of classic SPAM—that’s about one-third of a can—is about 310 calories.  It’s very low in carbs and reasonably high in proteins—that same helping contains about 26 percent of the recommended daily amount.  But it also is high in saturated fat—49 percent of the recommended daily amount--and very high in sodium—57 percent.

Nonetheless, SPAM remains a staple of diets in some regions.  In Hawaii, for instance, it’s served in McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants and is sometimes referred to as “Hawaiian steak.”  And it’s even more popular in Guam, where it was introduced during World War II.  Each resident of Guam consumes an average of 16 cans of SPAM every year.

In recent years, SPAM has taken on another meaning, namely relentless, unwanted email.  And that has its roots in a Monty Python Flying Circus skit that aired in December, 1970. In it, a couple in a restaurant is told that everything on the menu comes with SPAM, while in the background Vikings sing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM,” increasing in volume and drowning out the rest of the conversation.  The analogy was extended to electronic spam because unsolicited email was seen as ubiquitous and drowning out everything else.

The connection between SPAM and Monty Python was revived in 2004 when Monty Python’s Spamalot made its Broadway review. Hormel produced a Spamalot collector’s edition of “golden honey grail SPAM,” which was handed out to the first 100 people in line to buy tickets to the musical. And last year, to celebrate SPAM’s 75th birthday, the company introduced its first talking mascot, a knight named Sir Can-a-Lot.

More Slices of History

Dancing hysteria: June 24, 1374
First kidney transplant: June 17, 1950
Alcoholics Anonymous born: June 10, 1935
Bizarre stomach experiment: June 6, 1822
Heimlich maneuver born: June 1, 1974
Toothpaste in tubes: May 22, 1892
The Fist Vaccination: May 14, 1786
The Pill Arrives: May 9, 1960
Hello, Cheerios: May 1, 1941
First hit workout video: April 24, 1982  
Insulin goes mainstream: April 15, 1923
Polio vaccine celebrated:  April 12, 1955
First artificial heart: April 4, 1969