April 23: We really do like SPAM! Not the kind that continues to invade our e-mail and websites, but the real SPAM food product that has been produced and sold by the Hormel Foods Company since 1937! Today we stopped in Austin, Minnesota along Interstate 90 for a second visit to the one and only SPAM Museum. This is a destination that RVers don’t want to miss as they travel along this transcontinental highway.
Hormel Foods has been been in business since 1892 when it was known as the Hormel Provisions Market. After 1922, the company expanded into a full-scale meat packing operation headed by its founder George Hormel who has later succeeded by his son Jay. From those early beginnings, Hormel Foods has grown to an international corporation with six plants operating in five countries. Products produced and marketed by Hormel include Dinty Moore Beef Stew, Hormel Chili, Hormel Canned Ham, and Ready to Eat Meals for the military, but its most famous item is SPAM. One of the little-known products of Hormel is “SPAMMY” which is a high protein, high vitamin turkey-based spread that is being used to provide healthy meals for children in Guatamala as part of the company’s charitable work to reduce hunger worldwide.
Not everyone has a taste for SPAM! The origin of the product’s mixed reputation goes all the way back to World War II when Hormel supplied tons of SPAM to the American and Allied Forces. Maybe even “too much” of a good thing as Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his letter congratulating the company on its 75th anniversary. One of the creative exhibits in the musuem is titled “WWII Spamville” featuring a holigraphic infantryman talking about just how much SPAM he saw in his company’s mess tent — “Spam three times a day everyday!” Even before America entered the war, Hormel was shipping supplies of SPAM to help feed civilians in the war torn countries of the European Theater.
A lot of folks who don’t eat SPAM always remark that ‘they don’t know what’s in it!” Well, the museum’s exhibits make it clear that it’s pure pork – primarily shoulder and ham – with water, seasonings, and sugar. One of the many interesting “factoids” from the tour is that SPAM is actually cooked in the can through a conveyor belt process that takes two hours to complete. The plant produces 40,000 cans of SPAM each day.
The museum is set up in 18 exhibits and a great gift shop appropiately named the “SPAM Shop”.
The trip through the museum begins in the Lobby where friendly hosts welcome guests and introduce them to the museum.The wall extending high above the musuem entrance contains a display of 3,500 cans of SPAM — enough your host tells you “at one can per day, could feed you for almost 10 years”!
From the Lobby, guests proceed to a comfortable theater seating 42 people and showing a continuous film about the history of SPAM. Among the other exhibit areas are the Cyberdiner featuring the official SPAM websites, WWII Spamville, Global SPAM Brand, SPAM Radio (SPAM was a sponsor for the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show on both radio and television), and Chez SPAM, where famous chefs from around the world teach visitors to cook exotic SPAM dishes.
One of the iconic displays describes the history of the Hormel Girls (a troupe of young women who travelled the country from 1949 through 1953 as travelling salespeople and performers promoting SPAM — they even had their own radio and television show!), Hormel originally created the “Hormel Girls” program to create jobs for World War II female veterans. A short film shown at the “Hormel Girls” exhibit provides a history of the troupe and their ‘road show’.
The SPAM Museum is a great place for children as well as adults. Several exhibits, such as the SPAM Production, allows guests to learn to make a can of SPAM Classic in a race against the factory. It took me 57 seconds on my first try — while the factory was producing 397 cans in the same timespan!
No visit to the SPAM Museum would be complete without a stop at the SPAM Shop — the gift shop. “All things” SPAM are available — t-shirts, caps, cups — you name it, it probably has the SPAM brand on it — even a flyswatter — and, of course, cans of SPAM in all its varieties! Like the musuem itself, the gift shop is colorful, attractive, and light-hearted. “Tongue-in-cheek” humor prevades the museum and its displays and creates a very positive atmosphere for visitors to enjoy.
The Museum’s brochure and tour guide describes that atmosphere well —
“The Museum is good for you. It contains all of the necessary vitamins and minerals required by law. Based on a daily museum diet, the SPAM Museum contains over 20,000 museum calories. That’s a lot of museum in one dose. Technically, there is no protein in the displays. They are, however, meaty with information. Again, there are no carbohydrates, sodium, sugars, or cholesterol. We have also trimmed the fat from all exhibits. We hope you are hungry for knowledge because there is plenty of that here.”
Hormel Foods LLC is a great example of a historically successful American corporation. A visit to the SPAM Museum is not only a lesson in the company’s signature product, but also an opportunity to gain insight into a positive and progressive corporate attitude. It’s a great trip!
SPAM and SPAMMY are registered trademarks of Hormel Foods LLC @2012 Hormel Foods LLC.