Trivia and tributes regarding America’s most enduringly popular canned meat fill this facility in Austin, Minnesota.
By Marion Amberg
The SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, has gone hog-wild, and a bronze statue of a farmer and his two pigs outside the building is just the beginning. Inside, playful porcine images float in cloud murals, and visitors play a SPAM game show. Overall, this 16,500-square-foot museum dedicated to the pork luncheon meat squeals with facts and fun. Even vegetarians love it.
“Welcome to the SPAM Museum,” said a “SPAMbassador” (yes, that’s what they call docents here) to a family as they entered and walked under the Great Wall of SPAM, a display of 3,390 blue-and-yellow cans encircling a likeness of the earth. The cans are so numerous that the SPAMbassador said, “At one can per day, the wall could feed one person for nearly 10 years.”
And that’s just the beginning of the antics. After a quick tour of the CyberDiner “” a 1950s-style eatery with computers connected to official SPAM Web sites “” it’s off to the George A. Hormel Theater to watch “SPAM … A Love Story.” A chortling ode to SPAM, the 15-minute film includes music by the doo-wop “Spamettes” and fan testimonials. One fan, Jim Murphy, wore a SPAM T-shirt every day for five years. “Everyone thought I was a dork,” the college student confessed to the camera.
But SPAM “” also dubbed the “miracle meat” “” didn’t just appear on food shelves around the world. Exit the theater’s “pig doors” (the pig’s eyes are the two round door windows, and his snout is the door handle) to the next exhibit and you’ve traveled back in time to 1891, the year George A. Hormel founded what’s known today as Hormel Foods. Inspired by his father’s maxim to “originate, don’t imitate,” George Hormel developed Canadian bacon in 1895 and produced America’s first canned ham in 1926. Like his father, Jay C. Hormel was an “originator.” In the 1930s while looking for a way to salvage pork shoulders (pork shoulders have lots of little bones, making the meat too small to use as hams and too big for bacon), Jay Hormel and his team hit on an idea. They ground up the shoulder meat with some ham, added spices, canned it, and baked it.
Originally called Hormel Spiced Ham, the product soon had many imitators. Jay Hormel needed a catchy name to capture the marketplace. The resulting word was submitted by an actor named Kenneth Diagneau. He took “SP” from the word spiced and “AM” from the word ham, and SPAM was born! The newly named meat debuted in stores in 1937.
Even before the United States entered World War II, SPAM was serving on the war front. In March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, which provided desperately needed aid and food to the Allies. It included SPAM. “Without SPAM,” stated Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his autobiography, “we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.” SPAM also found its way to England. Then a young woman of 18, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered feasting on SPAM to celebrate Christmas in 1943.
The non-Americans weren’t the only ones consuming SPAM. In the museum’s replica of Spamville, a World War II military camp named for the ubiquitous food, an animated American GI gripes about the menu: “SPAM breaded with cornflakes . . . SPAM baked in cabbage . . . SPAM in creamed corn.” Even former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a general in World War II, had a word to say about the 100 million pounds of SPAM that was supplied to American troops and Allies. “During World War II, of course, I ate my share of SPAM along with millions of other soldiers,” he wrote to Hormel Foods upon the company’s 75th anniversary in 1966. “I’ll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it “” uttered during the strain of battle, you understand. But as a former Commander in Chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it.”
SPAM continues its humanitarian efforts today. “Hormel Foods sent three truckloads of SPAM to victims of Hurricane Katrina,” a SPAMbassador said. “It doesn’t need refrigeration, it’s already cooked, and it’s full of protein.”
There’s more SPAM to be canned, so don a white factory coat and hard hat and join the mock assembly line. Visitors race to beat the clock, stuffing sponge SPAM into cans, and while they do, more than 800 real tins travel overhead on a 400-foot-long conveyor belt, giving one the sensation of being in a real factory.
Looking for something a tad more exotic, perhaps? You can get cooking tips from top chefs around the world in the Chez SPAM exhibit. And listen to K-SPAM radio, a real working radio station, which airs reruns of old SPAM commercials.
For more trivia, stop at Global SPAM, a world map that showcases SPAM’s mass appeal. It’s available in 47 countries and on all seven continents. Flip a country’s flag and learn a SPAM bit or two. In South Korea, for example, SPAM is considered a delicacy. Folks in the U.S. territory of Guam eat the most SPAM per capita (16 cans per person per year).
In 2002 SPAM production topped a whopping 6 billion cans. If laid end to end, the cans would reach from Austin, Minnesota, to the moon and then circle it more than 20 times! Here’s something else to squeal about: SPAM celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2007 “” the Chinese Year of the Pig.
By this time in your visit, you might think you know everything there is to know about SPAM. So, the SPAM Exam is waiting to test your SPAM IQ. In this interactive game show, contestants compete against each other and ring in their answers. A sample question: Which state eats the most SPAM “” Alaska, Hawaii, California, or Minnesota?
Answer: Hawaii. The 50th state is the first in SPAM.
By the time you reach the SPAM gift shop, which offers more than 1,000 items (everything from SPAM earrings to office products to approximately a dozen varieties of SPAM itself), you’ll probably be getting hungry. Pick up a can or two for your next meal, or visit a local restaurant, many of which carry SPAM dishes on their menus. Bon appetit!
The SPAM Museum is located at 1937 SPAM Blvd. in Austin, Minnesota, approximately 110 miles south of St. Paul, site of FMCA’s 80th International Convention this July.
From Interstate 90, take exit 178B and follow the signs to the museum. The museum is wheelchair-accessible, and video exhibits are closed-captioned.
Admission is free. Between May 1 and Labor Day, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and from noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. From Labor Day to April 30, it is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (also closed on major winter holidays).
For more details, contact the museum at (800) LUV SPAM (588-7726) or visit www.spam.com.
The former family home of the Hormels, the “First Family” of Austin, is open for tours. The Hormel Historic Home (208 Fourth Ave. N.W.), built in 1871 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features a unique curly birch split staircase, a marble fireplace, and an outdoor Peace Garden. Call (507) 433-4243 for details. The home is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is a suggested donation of $2 per person.
Another related locale is the picturesque Jay C. Hormel Nature Center (1304 21st St. N.E.). More than nine miles of trails wind through the park, and a half-mile paved trail accommodates people with strollers or wheelchairs. Once part of Jay Hormel’s estate, the 278-acre center includes hardwoods, a restored prairie, ponds, and a three-story observation tower. An interpretive center includes an interactive quiz to test hikers’ nature identification skills. Admission and parking are free, and canoe rentals are offered. For more details, call (507) 437-7519.
For more information about attractions in Austin, visit www.austincvb.com or call (800) 444-5713.
The following is not a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or FMCA’s Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Albert Lea/Austin KOA
84259 County Road 46
Hayward, MN 56043
(800) 562-5196 (reservations)
Beaver Trails Campground and RV Park
21943 630th Ave.
Austin, MN 55912
(800) 245-6281 (outside 507 area code)
Looking for a quick snack or meal? Try these recipes from the kitchens of Hormel Foods. More recipes can be found at www.spam.com.
SPAM Speedy Dip
1 12-ounce can SPAM Classic
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded
4 tablespoons mayonnaise or salad dressing
Chips and/or crackers
In a bowl or food processor fitted with a metal blade, blend together the SPAM, onion, and jalapeno peppers until smooth. Stir in the mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve with chips or crackers. Makes 2 cups of dip.
SPAM Confetti Pasta
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 12-ounce can SPAM, cut in 2-inch strips
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup chopped red onion
11/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
12 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked and drained
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
In a skillet coated with cooking spray, sauté the corn, SPAM, bell peppers, and onion over medium heat for five minutes or until tender. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Keep warm. To the same skillet, add the whipping cream, chili powder, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes or until the cream has slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Pour over pasta and toss well. Spoon the SPAM meat mixture over the pasta. To serve, sprinkle with chopped tomatoes and cilantro. Serves six.