Today we are kicking off our first round of podcasts about ‘Quirky Midwest Museums’ with one of my favorites.
Now you may love it, or you might not be a fan, but it seems everyone has feelings about SPAM, Hormel’s infamous canned meat.
Savile Lord is manager of the SPAM Museum, Community Relations and Archives in Austin, Minnesota.
History of the SPAM Museum
This year (2021) marks the 30th year of the SPAM Museum, which started out as a fluke. SPAM is a product of Hormel Foods Corporation, which is headquartered in Austin, Minnesota. When it was celebrating its 100th year as a company, Hormel decided to open a Hormel Foods Corporate Museum. Since SPAM was one of the products Hormel was selling, they made the entrance to the museum a giant SPAM can.
Visitors immediately became excited. But after walking through the giant SPAM can, they then expected to see all-things SPAM. Instead, only a small quarter was actually dedicated to the product, and the rest of the musuem was dedicated to other aspects of Hormel. The company could tell that visitors were disappointed that they didn’t see more SPAM-related exhibits, so several years later, a museum was opened right off the highway in Austin that was dedicated solely to SPAM.
The museum was a hit. The company learned that people were very interested in SPAM brand in particular because of its quirkiness and their relationship with it. So five years ago, the museum was moved to downtown Austin.
What Is It About SPAM?
SPAM is a food product that most companies don’t have, so its uniqueness is a draw for consumers and fans. Let’s face it — most people don’t have relationships with food like they do with SPAM.
SPAM is sold in 44 countries, so its fanbase spans internationally. Interestingly, it has become popular throughout history particularly after wars. In Hawaii and Japan, it became popular after World War II. It really took off in Korea after the Korean War. Part of the reason is the three-year shelf life of the product. But it’s also the stories and the relationship with SPAM that makes it popular.
Some families come into the museum and talk about how they would eat SPAM every Sunday night for dinner or how they would always get a can of Spam in their stocking. One man told how his mother would buy SPAM during World War II because she refused to buy food off the black market. Stories like these create a relationship with SPAM that’s like no other food product. “Let me tell you my SPAM story” is a line heard on a daily basis at the museum.
What You’ll Experience at the SPAM Museum
The 14,000-square-foot museum is a little bit interactive and a lot of fun. Take your picture at one of a half dozen photo opp spots. Find out how many SPAM cans tall you are. Play a SPAM game, and learn more about the history of SPAM and Hormel.
The history exhibit explains how George Hormel came from Toledo, Ohio, to Austin to start the company and how he really worked at being a clean producer of meat. His son Jay was the innovator in the company and came up with the idea of cooked ham in a can in order to reduce the cooking time for women in the kitchen so they would have more time for other pursuits.
The military exhibit shows what kind of world effect SPAM had. When wars broke out, SPAM was able to really help feed soldiers when reinforcements weren’t readily available.
The world market exhibit showcases how SPAM is used in 44 different countries and spotlights six countries specifically. Play a game or watch a video to see why SPAM is important in each country. You can even watch commercials from those countries.
Another exhibit focuses on SPAM today. Learn about how Monty Python helped popularize SPAM even more with his comedy routine. Hear the story of a man from England who has such a relationship with SPAM that he legally had his middle name changed to SPAM and several years ago actually got married at the museum.
For the Kids
The SPAM Museum also features a large play area. Kids can burn off energy on the giant jungle gym, then explore the kitchen, where they can make a variety of play food products.
SPAM Gift Shop
Don’t miss the gift shop when you visit the museum, where you’ll find everything SPAM-related you never knew you needed! From a SPAM bowtie to a SPAM skateboard, you can find anything you’ve ever looked for and more. The gift shop also sells a variety of SPAM flavors.
SPAM Museum Details
The SPAM Museum is located at 101 3rd Ave. NE in Austin, Minnesota.
Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is free.