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speaking of SPAM (the semi-edible kind)

April 6, 2011

After griping yesterday about the Giants’ stumble out of the gate and KU’s early

exit in the NCAA basketball tournament, I got enough sleep to start anew today.

Sure, San Francisco lost their fourth of five, but they’ll come back.  The Jayhawks

can draw comfort from their final ranking at #4.  Hopefully the Morris twins will

return next year to improve on that.


In the depths of my sports-related funk, I neglected to give you all the scoop I had

unearthed while reading up on the Whizbang.  The chap who invented the tub

plucker also invented the machine that makes SPAM.  Hence, it was just a hop to

Hormel hype.


Incorporated in 1901, Hormel meat products were being featured in national publi-

cations within a decade.  The progressive company started recycling its waste water

in 1910, evaporating as much as 9000 gallons a day.  The remaining syrup was dried

and sold as fertilizer.


In 1931, Hormel introduced weekly pay and a guarantee to employees that they’d

be given a year’s notice before job termination.  Incentive pay, profit sharing and

and pension plans followed.


SPAM came in 1937 when Hormel figured out how to market the pork shoulder it

had in surplus.  The celebrated meat got its big break when World War II required

dietary changes for civilians and service personnel.  The 12-ounce can size for

families was joined by a 6-pound can for the military.


Former USSR premier Nikita Khruschev credited SPAM for keeping Soviet soldiers

alive during the war.  In December 1942, Edward R. Murrow broadcast from an

England devastated by the Blitz: “This is London.  Although the Christmas table

will not be lavish, there will be SPAM luncheon meat for everyone.”


A hundred million pounds of SPAM fueled the Normandy Invasion.  By 1945 the

U.S. government was buying 65% of Hormel’s products.  After the war, the company

developed the Hormel Girls by hiring women veterans to form a drum and bugle

corps.  The group was the first female corps to compete in the American Legion

senior competition, making it to the finals.


The Girls were expanded into an orchestra.  They toured, handing out Hormel

coupons.  They also had a CBS radio show.  The half-hour broadcast had 5 ads in-

stead of the usual 3, plus 15 mentions of SPAM written into the scripts.  The Girls

were credited with doubling Hormel sales during their 5-year span, but disbanded

due to rising production costs and the advent of TV.


The company continued its community care by establishing a college scholarship

program in 1967.  In 1973 it became the first meatpacking company to print nutri-

tional and ingredient information on its can labels.  The 80’s saw the introduction

of microwave bacon.


The brand name was tarnished, however, in 1985.  A recession had forced the indus-

try to downsize.  Hormel demanded a 23% paycut from the workers.  Already under

a wage freeze and facing dangerous working conditions, the workers went on strike.

After six months and a national boycott of Hormel, some strikers crossed the line to

go back to work.


This caused riots at the Austin, Minnesota, plant.  The governor called out the Na-

tional Guard, then called them right back after a public outcry.  The strike ended

in June the next year.  More than 700 strikers refused to go back and were replaced

by new workers at substantially cheaper wages.  The strike was chronicled in the

Oscar-winning documentary American Dream.


Hormel is back in warm light these days.  In 2008 it donated money to build an ex-

pansion to its cancer research facility at the University of Minnesota.  That helped

get the outfit on the 100 Best Corporate Citizens list of 2010, as adjudged by that

publishing industry giant Corporate Responsibility Officer Magazine.  And Hormel

is fighting malnutrition in Guatamala with a turkey spread named Spammy.


SPAM is still immensely popular, partly due to the smoke and mirrors economy.

It is celebrated across the U.S. with numerous cookoffs.  Shady Cove, Oregon, has

an annual SPAM Parade and Festival, with a budget of $1500.  The storied meat is

actually on Burger King menus in Hawaii.


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9 Comments
  1. Charlotte Wales permalink
    April 6, 2011 6:57 am

    I’m slightly gagging as I read this – – -NOT a Spam fan! But the story was interesting, to be sure!

    • April 6, 2011 10:35 am

      Thanks, Charlotte. I never liked the original taste either, but now you can get it in Mild, Lite, Hot and Spicy, Hickory Smoked, Oven Roasted Turkey, with bacon, with cheese, with garlic, in a spread and in hot dogs. A kosher version was briefly available, as was Spam Golden Holy Grail to honor Monty Python’s Broadway musical “Spamalot”.

  2. Brother Brown permalink
    April 6, 2011 7:15 am

    Several years ago, my family was on a short vacation in northern Iowa and on the way out of the motel one morning the kids picked up some of the ‘interesting sites’ brochures. The one they elected to promote for the day’s activities was a to visit THE SPAM MUSEUM! It was just across the state line in MN, so we went…and it was a great experience! We had no idea there was so much history tied up in that little can of ‘meat’…
    Coincidentally, in the parking lot was the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (http://www.reedberry.com/wienermobile.html) so we got a tour of that as well. It was piloted by several college students who had ‘won out’ in their application to crew the unusual machine.
    Part of our boy scout survival training is 37 ways to prepare SPAM! Most of them are pretty edible, some not so much….
    BB

    • April 6, 2011 10:41 am

      Bravo to the Browns for exspamming their consciousness. I can see where something that weird would appeal to all four of you. In your professional opinion, which would win in a race, the Spam-mobile or the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile? Given the disastrous aerodynamic design of both, would they even finish?

  3. April 6, 2011 7:20 am

    SPAM = Something Posing As Meat

    • April 6, 2011 10:41 am

      U.S. troops in World War II also called it “ham that flunked its physical”.

  4. Chris permalink
    April 8, 2011 10:20 pm

    Actually, Spam has other uses. Years ago, when I worked on the Quadra ferry, one rainy night when the traffic was slow, my fellow deckhand, Darren carved a really neat “spamelope” out of a block of Spam. It even had antlers. Probably a better thing to do than actually eating the stuff.

    • April 9, 2011 9:08 am

      Did he send it to the SPAM Museum in Minnesota? It could be on display there in perpetuity.

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