Unique U.S. Museums: The SPAM Museum

By Carla Charter

AUSTIN,MN.- SPAM. Almost all Americans at one time or another have enjoyed this canned delight. The SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, also the home of Hormel Foods, was created to celebrate this wonderfully American food invention.

The public had its first taste of SPAM in 1937.  The idea for SPAM began in 1936 when Jay Hormel, the founder George Hormel’s son, tried to find a way to use pieces of pork previously not used. Ten years prior to the invention of SPAM, Jay Hormel had invented the idea of cooking ham in its own can.

“The ham in a can, as well as SPAM, were invented for the modern housewife, so she could have an easier time in the kitchen. The housewife could slice it lengthwise and make it into a sandwich and sideways and serve it with eggs. As a result, SPAM became known as the meat of many uses,” according to Savile Lord, Director of the SPAM Museum and Community Relations for Hormel Foods.

SPAM has six ingredients pork, salt water, sugar, potato starch and Sodium Nitrate, a curing agent and potato starch. The potato starch was added to SPAM in 1989.  “SPAM was cooked in its own can, the fat from the process was gelatinous and would settle on the top. The potato starch allows the meat to reabsorb that fat,” said Lord.

The first SPAM museum started almost 27 years ago during the 100th anniversary of Hormel Foods. “As part of the celebration a temporary museum, the First Century of Hormel Foods, was set up for a short time.  The front door was a giant SPAM can. When you walked into the exhibit there were displays about the history of Hormel foods including a section on SPAM. The SPAM section received the most publicity and it was decided to design a museum to this meat,” Lord said.  The SPAM Museum opened in 2001, moving to downtown Austin in 2016.

Three years after SPAM was invented World War II began and SPAM, a fully cooked food which could be transported, was helpful to the troops. “It became popular with the American military and its allies. (Nikita) Khrushchev and (Margaret) Thatcher thanked us for sending SPAM, as it helped the allies fight World War II,” Lord said.

The name SPAM has a unique beginning as well.  “Jay Hormel was quite famous for his New Year Eve Parties.  “At the 1936 New Year’s Eve Party, (Jay)Hormel offered $100 to anyone who could come up with a name for his new food product. In attendance at the party was actor Kenneth Daigneau, whose family member worked at Hormel Foods. He came up with the name of SPAM. SP for spice and Am for ham. It is said it took two or three rounds of drinks before names for the product really started flying,” Lord said.

Displays at the SPAM Museum cover a variety of aspects of the food including the international importance of SPAM, a SPAM display explaining how the product is made, a display on other Hormel products including Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Hormel Chili and canned ham, a display on the art of SPAM and a SPAM today segment which includes among other items, information about Monty Python and Spamalot.

There is also a museum display highlighting the Hormel Foundation, a medical institute which started in 1940 as a food science research facility. At that facility is where the first discovery fatty acids were made.  Today the Hormel Foundation in partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic has grown into a Cancer Research medical facility. Currently research being done there includes food and its effects on cancer.  As part of this research the facility has developed nutritional drinks for those with Cancer and those who have trouble swallowing.

 

Among the fans of SPAM include Korea.  Korea is quite a fan of SPAM, which began during the Korean War. “In South Korea SPAM is a popular gift on both their Lunar New Year and their Thanksgiving. A gift box from South Korea containing nine cans of SPAM can cost $70, a gift box with nine cans of SPAM and 2 containers of Olive oil can cost $90,” Lord said.

Many island’s including Hawaii are also fans of SPAM. “Fresh meats are very expensive (on the islands).  Having something like SPAM, a high protein meat, is cost effective for them,” Lord said. Waikiki, Hawaii hosts the annual SPAM Jam celebrating the love Hawaiians have for SPAM. The event started as a thank you breakfast for Waikiki hotel staff at the Outrigger Resort.  “It was designed to thank the hotel staff at all of the resorts at Waikiki. From there it evolved into a one day, five-hour event at the end of April. It is four to five blocks large with 30 to 40 restaurants who create SPAM themed recipes,” Lord said.

As for food created with SPAM, Lord continued, “I have seen SPAM popsicles at the SPAM Jam in Hawaii.  I love it in cookies, I have seen it used in Monkey Bread, fried rice dishes, and fries, which Hormel will also soon be releasing,” Lord said.

The museum in Minnesota, has a little over 100,00 visitors a year. “People come from everywhere. Visitors come from all over the world. We have two groups that visit annually from Hawaii.  They go to Las Vegas and always come to Minneapolis first and then to the SPAM Museum. From there they drive to Las Vegas,” Lord continued.

“There are so many different foods in the world today. I have never found a food which so many people had a story about. The food has held strong for 82 years.” Last year SPAM crossed a landmark with 9 billion cans of SPAM being sold since its 1937 creation.

More information on the SPAM Museum can be found at www.SPAM.com/museum

More information on the SPAM Jam can be found at http://SPAMjamhawaii.com/