This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Devyn Raver
In Austin, Minnesota, SPAM – that much maligned canned cooked pork – runs through the town’s veins. Hormel was founded here in 1891. Of 25,000 town residents, about 1,800 work at the local Hormel Foods Plant. In this town, there’s a SPAM T-shirt around every corner. And around the corner from 3rd Avenue NE, is the SPAM Museum.
So, what led me to the SPAM Museum?
This was not my first time visiting the SPAM Museum as my sister is a Hormel employee. At first, my family and I decided to go to the museum because we thought the experience would be amusing.
I mean, who else could say that they went to an entire museum about SPAM?
My tune quickly changed as I walked around the museum and learned so many facts about Hormel. Not only does SPAM have a rich history, it connects the local and global communities. After deciding to take a spontaneous trip to Minnesota with my friends, I knew that the SPAM Museum would be on our agenda.
History of the SPAM Museum
Walking up to the SPAM Museum, you are greeted with a bronze statue of a farmer and two pigs. This statue gives people a glimpse of Hormel’s history as all products are made out of pork.
Although this farmer does not have a name, guests can infer that he is Jay Hormel. Hormel, the inventor of SPAM, created this product in 1937. This statue has become a great photo opportunity for tourists and is now a recognizable landmark.
Entering the SPAM Museum, it feels as if you are at some sort of strange Midwestern theme park. Much like a theme park, the SPAM Museum has different interactive activities that center around one theme…SPAM.
The brightly lit logos and big television screens make it feel like you are waiting in line for a roller coaster. In giant gold, SPAM covers every inch of the museum’s entrance. Don’t let its appearance fool you! This 14,000-square-foot museum is jam packed with history.
Although I have gone to the museum countless times, I really tried to immerse myself in Hormel’s history and learn new facts about SPAM. By paying more attention, I learned so much about both the Hormel family and their most distinctive product.
From family betrayals to the creation of SPAM, the Hormel family truly had a big impact on Austin, Minnesota. The history of Hormel all began with John G. Hormel.
Without having much, he settled down in Austin and took a risk on his meatpacking business. As the company was passed down to his children and so on, it continued to thrive and transform this town.
SPAM was created during World War II to feed soldiers. Even though I knew this, I did not know how important it truly was during this time period. Without SPAM, it would have been more difficult for soldiers to ration and stay afloat.
SPAM Around the World
One of the main attractions at the SPAM Museum is what I like to call, “SPAM Around the World”; however, it’s titled the “Global Marketplace.”
This exhibit showcases SPAM in different countries and the most popular dishes in these countries. The museum wants guests to “take a journey” around the world and learn about each destination’s cultures and cuisines.
Several unique locations within this exhibit include: England, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, China, Hawaii, and Latin America. Although there are a select few countries portrayed, I learned that SPAM is enjoyed by more than 40 countries.
Guests can play interactive games, such as creating a SPAM inspired van in the Philippines, and learn about SPAM’s contribution to a particular destination.
Each vestibule has a fact sheet posted that discloses how many SPAM products are sold yearly and interesting SPAM facts.
Just from reading Latin America’s facts, I learned that the U.S.-Mexican border is 30,903,840 SPAM cans long!
Additionally, you can learn about unique SPAM dishes found in each country. In Japan, SPAM is actually used in sushi while SPAM and rice is a common meal in China.
Among all of these locations, I thought that Hawaii was the most interesting. Although SPAM is not popular in many other U.S. states, Hawaiians have a deep love and appreciation for SPAM that actually connects them to Austin.
Since 2002, Hawaii has held an annual celebration known as SPAM JAM. At SPAM JAM, Hawaiians walk down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki and consume a high amount of SPAM. Honolulu’s best restaurants even serve unique SPAM creations, like SPAM Musubi, which is fried SPAM and rice wrapped in seaweed.
Similar to Hawaii’s festival, Austin has a local SPAM JAM. This summer festival includes fireworks, a parade, games, carnivals, and lots of SPAM.
SPAM JAM is one of the major events that unites SPAM lovers together. Whether you’re from Hawaii or Austin, SPAM pride is truly unmatched.
The SPAM Community
After exiting the Global Marketplace, you will see a giant blue “I Heart SPAM” wall mural. This wall mural showcases Minnesotans appreciation for SPAM as Hormel did provide the community of Austin with several job opportunities.
The dedication to SPAM goes beyond the Austin community as well. In fact, at the SPAM Museum, I learned that a couple actually had their wedding in the museum. Hormel Foods was more than happy to pay for the couple’s wedding and the couple even participated in Hawaii’s SPAM JAM parade.
Next door to the SPAM Museum, you can check out the SPAM Gift Shop and get yourself your very own SPAMmy shirt. I know that I alone have a SPAM baseball hat, a SPAM sweatshirt, SPAM socks, a SPAM keychain, and even a SPAM costume. Just like me, relatives of employees are not shy to say they know someone who works for Hormel.
Food made with SPAM
In the SPAM Museum, you can actually find interactive cookbooks that hold dozens of step by step SPAM recipes. Through these cookbooks, I have made several SPAM dishes including SPAM fried rice. In fact, SPAM can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as there are various flavors.
Aside from fun spammy merch, the SPAM Shop sells different international favorites that are not readily available in U.S. grocery stores. That’s right, there’s more than just one original flavor of SPAM.
Unique international flavors available in the SPAM Shop include Mezclita, Tocino, and Teriyaki. Here you can also find Portuguese Sausage SPAM, which is only found in Hawaii.
In Austin, it is not uncommon to find SPAM dishes on the menu. In fact, one of my favorite local diners, Kenny’s Oak Grill, has a yummy Eggs George, a dish that has two poached eggs and SPAM on an English muffin. Additionally, upon request, you can substitute any meat with SPAM.
Even common fast food restaurants like Arby’s and Burger King sells SPAM in Austin! You can find a list of restaurants that create SPAM dishes on SPAM’s website. Austin is not ashamed of its SPAMmy roots and supports the canned meat with pride.
If you want to walk off those calories, Sweet Reads, located across from the SPAM Museum, is another hidden gem in Austin. Sweet Reads is not like other bookstores. Inside the store you can find an array of sweet treats and work from local authors and artisans.
Next time you find yourself wandering the Midwest, stop in Austin, Minnesota, and get a taste of its history.
SPAM Museum Information
Spam Museum Hours:
Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 9AM-12PM & 1PM-4PM
Tuesday: 9AM – 12PM
Parking near the Spam Museum
2 hour, 4 hour, and 12 hour free parking are available in downtown Austin.
For more information visit SPAM’s website at spam.com/museum