You can grill it, fry it, or eat it right out of the can — we're talking Spam, the canned meat product that's been feeding families around the globe for over 80 years.
Produced by the Hormel Foods Corporation in Austin, Minn., this canned ham has been a staple on supermarket shelves since 1937. And while many automatically think of Spam as something you'd stock in your bunkers in preparation of a zombie apocalypse, it’s actually remained popular among non-bunker folk for a long time.
“The origins of Spam started pretty simply," says Tim Fritz, the vice president of Hormel's operations for grocery products. "[Hormel CEO] Jay Hormel had a concept of creating a convenience meat item that could be utilized every day … and July 5, 1937, the first can of Spam rolled off the production line."
But what about the name? Jay Hormel didn't know what to call it at first, so he set up a contest at a New Year’s party in 1936, promising $100 to the winner. An actor and friend claimed the prize after suggesting “Spam.”
“S-P as spiced and A-M as ham; Put that together as SPAM,” Kevin Myers, Hormel's SVP of research and development, explained to Fox News.
A few years later, the course of Spam's history changed dramatically as the U.S. entered the second World War.
“The facility here in Austin, Minn., became a war facility and made Spam for the troops,” says Myers, who explained that since Spam had no need for refrigeration, soldiers could easily carry the canned meat in their packs. Over 150 million pounds had been shipped overseas before the war was over. “It was really a staple for our troops and its credited with winning the war on many fronts for the allies,” says Myers.
After the war, the troops reportedly brought their appreciation for the canned mean to the home front, and Spam ingrained itself in Americana.
“It is more than just a product, it resonates with people in such a popular way,” says Fritz. “I believe it is America in a can; it doesn’t get any more America than Spam,” echoes Myers.
Since its debut, more than 8 billion cans of Spam have been produced, and 14 different varieties are now available. The product has also spawned an interactive museum in Minnesota, Spam Jam street festivals and cooking contests. Spam even has an international presence nowadays, and in some cultures, giving the gift of Spam is considered a luxury item.
“Spam is headed to more counties in the future, expanded flavors … I think the world is ready for further growth in Spam,” says Myers.
Check out the video above for more about Spam, including its expanded origin story.