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From Battlefield to Breakfast Table: The Secret History of SPAM in WWII

Posted by Mike Bakke | Apr 09, 2024 | 0 Comments

This article is the fourth in our series on the technology and innovations that came about or were first majorly used during World War II. We will cover a number of incredible inventions in future articles. We also invite you to take a look at our previous articles to learn about microwave ovens, M&M's®, and the Jeep.

George A. Hormel founded his namesake slaughterhouse and meatpacking facility in Austin, MN in 1891, later incorporating the company in 1901 as George A. Hormel & Co.[i] After years of selling fresh meat products, Hormel released its Flavor-Sealed Ham, a precursor to SPAM, in 1926.[ii] Just three years later, George's son, Jay Hormel, took over as president. Jay Hormel brought with him new ideas for the company, including using butchering waste leftovers such as pig shoulder, widely considered undesirable at the time in America, to create a brand-new food product.[iii] They came up with a recipe to combine the pork shoulder with water, salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate, later adding potato starch in 2009 to soak up the gelatin layer produced by the cooking process.[iv]

Hormel's new product still needed a name. Jay Hormel enlisted his friends in coming up with a name by hosting a New Year's Eve party where partygoers traded possible product names for drinks. Whoever came up with the winning name would receive a $100 reward.[v] By the end of the night, Ken Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel Foods Vice President, had provided SPAM, allegedly a nonsense word he had previously thought up but had no product to attach the name to.[vi] Now with both a name and a recipe, SPAM was introduced to the world on July 5, 1937.[vii]




SPAM entered WWII similar to other American products and innovations through the Lend-Lease Act in 1941. Via the Lend-Lease Act, Hormel began shipping 15 million cans of meat overseas per week, most of which was SPAM.[viii] The canned meat came to be important for feeding both the public and soldiers of American allies. Because it had a long shelf life and did not require refrigeration, it was easier to ship than other meat products.[ix]


·       Future Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev credited SPAM with saving the Russian army from starvation during WWII.[x]


By the end of WWII, over 150 million pounds of SPAM were used in the war effort, with over 100 million cans being shipped to the Pacific alone.[xi]


After WWII, SPAM gained popularity around the world. In America, returning soldiers brought home stories of the famous (or infamous, according to some GIs) canned meat. However, in the countries that had been devastated by the war in Europe and Asia, SPAM was more than an interesting meal to many, it was a lifeline.[xii] This resulted in culinary innovations, especially in the Pacific, all using SPAM. Although SPAM can be a polarizing food, it is clear that this canned meat was innovative and an important part of WWII history.




The story of SPAM has some important takeaways for intellectual property.

First, innovation may be right in front of you just waiting to be realized. SPAM was created using pork shoulder, which was widely considered a waste product at the time. By taking another look at what many thought was garbage, Hormel created a new, patentable food product and a trademarked brand known around the world.

Second, innovations are not limited to a single person or even a single company. While Hormel created the original SPAM, cooks ranging in skill from home chefs to those at Michelin-star restaurants have used SPAM to create dishes beyond what Jay Hormel likely could have ever imagined. These dishes even became so popular and well known in their regions of the world that they have driven sales of SPAM to new heights. Hormel claimed in 2022 that roughly 13 cans of SPAM were consumed every second.[xiii] Thus, the innovation by those outside of Hormel has provided the company with continued profits almost 100 years after the introduction of its famous product.


How Gallium Law Can Help

Like SPAM, many people can find navigating the patent system hard to stomach, no matter how it is presented. We are here to help you, whether you are someone who has just discovered something that has been hiding in plain sight or someone who has an invention they want to maximize through the use of others. To get in touch with us, please fill out this online form or call us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

*The information in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is meant as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions.

About the Author

Mike Bakke

Mike Bakke is a Registered Patent Agent at Gallium Law. Mike previously completed projects for Gallium Law as an independent contractor before being hired onto the team in 2023. While in graduate school, as well as during his time as an independent contractor, he also worked as a contractor at Sh...


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