Spam's 80th birthday: The history of the much-maligned canned meat

Spam famously became the subject of a 1970 ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ sketch in which Vikings sing: "Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am." 

Beth Timmins
Tuesday 18 July 2017 13:42 BST
Spam arrived in the UK during the Second World War back when corned beef was all the rage
Spam arrived in the UK during the Second World War back when corned beef was all the rage (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

We are all prone to wonder how legends are made and the 80th birthday of Spam on Wednesday offers a perfect excuse to satisfy that curiosity.

The instantly recognisable chopped pork and ham food made its first appearance on US plates in 1937, its launch coinciding with the end of the Great Depression (1929-39). Nowadays its appetising oeuvre includes burgers, bubble and squeak, omelettes and sushi.

But where does the tale begin? Back in the 1930s the Minnesota based Hormel Food Company were making pork products but found themselves in a conundrum regarding the excess pork shoulder they were making.

President Jay Hormel had a light bulb moment. His ingenious solution was to ground the extra pork shoulder, mix it with ham and cook and can the result to create the now world famous long-life meat product.

Can-do attitude: the pork product was first produced in 1937 (Getty)

Spam arrived in the UK in 1941 during the Second World War back when corned beef was all the rage. Becoming an icon of the war years, Spam continued healthy sales, surviving the introduction of refrigeration in the 1950s.

By this time Spam was available world over and the end of the decade marked the sale of the one billionth can.

Not one to be stuck in the past, Spam then adapted to the Swinging Sixties by morphing into fritter form and sweeping the country's school menus. Spam even has its own song, composed and performed by the Cliff Adams singers to publicise a 1963 advertising campaign.

In 1999 advertisers took a different tack, creating a (self-deprecating) campaign centred around the theme of versatility: "I can't believe I've just eaten Spam."

A more recent remix of the company's first television advertising campaign entitled "Spam Up" in 2004 has also been created in honour of the canned good:

Spam even became the subject of its own 1970 sketch in Monty Python’s Flying Circus where Vikings sing: "Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam. Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!"

The linguistic significance of the word ‘spam’ for unsolicited commercial emails is also attributed to the sketch: a reference to the “drowning out of normal communication” on the Internet, according to Professor Pateriya and Prachi Goyal Juneja in the International Journal of Engineering Research and Technology.

The relationship between the Python's and Spam continued to blossom in 2006 when Hormel Foods sponsored the Python's Spamalot musical.

But the Python’s aren’t the only ones eager to celebrate the much-maligned canned meat. In Honolulu, Hawaii, during the last week of every April a “Spam Jam” festival is held and in 2009 almost 20,000 Spam lovers attended.

The event supports Hawaii Foodbank, the largest non-profit in the state that feeds those in need. During the event Spam even stops the traffic on Kalakaua Avenue, the main street in Waikiki, as several restaurants serve up Spam in a variety of meaty innovations.

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