Spam is a slang term that describes unsolicited commercial advertisements sent by e-mail over the Internet. Spam, which can be used as a noun or as a verb, is also known as junk e-mail or unsolicited bulk e-mail. According to Heather Newman in the Detroit Free Press, the term comes from a skit by the Monty Python comedy troupe, in which a group of Vikings chants "spam, spam, spam, spam," to drown out all other conversation. It was adopted by early Internet users to describe annoying, unsolicited e-mail advertisements that crowd out legitimate communication. "Spam is an overwhelming fact of life for nearly every e-mail user," Newman wrote. "Some Internet webmasters say that more than half the traffic their computers handle is spam."
THE COSTS OF SPAM
"The financial and psychological costs of spam are eroding the Internet's goodwill," Karen Rodriguez wrote in the Phoenix Business Journal. Spam causes problems for both e-mail users and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that offer access to the Internet to customers for a fee. Most email users resent receiving spam messages because they fill up electronic mailboxes and are time-consuming to sort through. In addition, a large proportion of spam messages contain material that could be considered offensive or fraudulent. A survey of spam content conducted on behalf of Representative Gary Miller of California, co-sponsor of proposed legislation to ban spam, found that 30 percent consisted of pornographic materials, another 30 percent consisted of get-rich-quick schemes, and the remainder included a variety of questionable business proposals and gambling opportunities.
According to Ryan P. Wallace, Adam M. Lusthaus, and Jong Hwan Kim in their book Computer Crimes, "Estimates put the total cost of spam to American businesses in 2003 at more than $10 million in lost productivity and anti-spam measures."
Companies that send out bulk e-mail defend the practice on several grounds. For example, they say that some small businesses cannot afford other forms of marketing. Sending bulk e-mail helps these businesses reach potential customers and compete with larger firms. Proponents of e-mail marketing also claim that their advertisements are a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Spammers try to justify their actions by claiming that companies should be allowed to take advantage of the online market and that people have no right to filter their mail.
But opponents of spam argue that Internet users end up paying to receive unwanted advertisements. By sending bulk e-mail to thousands of recipients, spammers create an increase in the load placed on ISP mail servers. ISPs must purchase bandwidth in order to connect their servers to the Internet. They buy bandwidth based on expected usage by their paying customers, and the cost accounts for a large percentage of their operating budgets. Spam ties up bandwidth and reduces processing speed, which causes an increase in costs for ISPs and a decrease in performance for their customers. So while it may cost a spammer only a few dollars to create and send an advertisement via e-mail, it may cost an ISP thousands of dollars to accommodate the spam. These costs are usually passed on to the ISP's customers, most of whom did not want to receive the spam in the first place.
LEGISLATION TO CURB SPAM
Complaints from ISPs and Internet users have prompted several states to pass laws regulating spam. In 2003 the federal government also took action. Spam came under relatively mild regulation with the passage of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, also officially called the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-197). It became effective in December of 2003 and took effect on January 1, 2004. The Act requires that senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail label their messages, but Congress did not require a standard labeling language. Such messages are required to carry instructions on how to opt-out of receiving such mail; the sender must also provide its actual physical address. Misleading headers and titles are prohibited. Congress authorized the Federal Trade Commission to establish a "do-not-mail" registry but did not require that the FTC do so. As of 2006 the FTC has not taken action to create a do-not-mail registry. CAN-SPAM also prevents states from outlawing commercial e-mail or to require their own labeling. Since 2003 other bills have been proposed but have not been enacted.
In effect, based on the provisions of CAN-SPAM, spam is not a computer crime unless, according to U.S. Code, Title 18, No. 1037, violation is committed "in furtherance of any felony under the laws of the United States or of any State." Despite its legal status, spam is both a major annoyance and extracts a cost.
After two plus years in force, the CAN-SPAM law appears to have done little to reduce the volume of spam that clutters cyberspace. As Roger A. Grimes reports in Info World, much of the problem with the law is the fact that it requires e-mail recipients to opt-out of receiving mail by replying to a spam note and asking to be removed from the mailing list. Grimes provides in his article a rather stark assessment of the CAN-SPAM law and its likelihood to ever curb spam. "If you don't have time to read the FTC's report [on the first two year's impact of CAN-SPAM], let me give you my Executive Summary of whether CAN-SPAM has led to a decrease in spam: No!… The real question is whether or not the percentage of spam as compared with total e-mail sent is decreasing. Although several entities report drops in the amount of spam reaching end-users because of improved filtering capabilities, the real rate of spam is leveling off at between 50 percent and 70 percent of e-mail traffic, depending on which statistics you read. And if spam reaching the end-user has decreased because of better filtering devices, then the CAN-SPAM Act has had no part in any so-called success." Grimes concludes with the suggestion that the law be abolished and a new one written which would criminalize the practice and add teeth to the legislation.
WAYS TO REDUCE SPAM
As Grimes' assessment of the CAN-SPAM Act suggests, strides have been made to curtail the number of spam messages that reach their intended audience. These strides appear to be the result, however, of companies spending time and money on spam filtering systems. The market for spam filtering and blocking services and software has grown rapidly in the last 5 years and is likely to continue growing. And while choice is good, the plethora of anti-spam options can be confusing.
"Before attempting to sift through the various anti-spam approaches, companies should make a few key decisions to help guide their search. Are you comfortable outsourcing your spam headache to a service provider, which means letting your e-mail traffic flow through their data centers before hitting your corporate network? If you prefer an in-house solution, should it sit at your mail gateway to ward off spam before it enters your network, saving valuable resources, or at the mail server where it can perform additional tasks as well? Or does a dedicated appliance that can't be tampered with sound more secure? And what about offerings from established messaging security vendors?" This is how the authors, Cara Garretson and Ellen Messmer, of an article in Network World begin a lengthy review of anti-spam products. Three options exist for implementing an anti-spamming program: anti-spam services provided by a third party; server software that can be loaded onto the company server, and a dedicated server used for this purpose only called a gateway appliance. For most small companies, one of the first two options is probably the most cost effective, the third being costly for smaller installations.
Anti-spam services are a good choice for companies that wish to dedicate minimal information technology resources to handling spam. Providers of this service divert a company's incoming mail to their own data centers, where a number of techniques are used to quarantine unwanted e-mail messages, and the remainder of the traffic is passed on to the customer. The benefits of anti-spam services can be put in place very quickly but over time they may prove to be more costly than a software option. Contracts with service providers usually cost between $1.50 and $4.00 per e-mail account per month after the minimum monthly charge.
Spam filtering software packages vary and provide a differing level of functionality and customization options. Anti-spam software packages usually sit at a company's mail gateway to filter spam out of the incoming messages. These products give companies many options for handling spam once it's caught, options like quarantine areas managed by end users where spam messages are held. Many products also offer lists, which dictate e-mail senders that should always be blocked and those who should never be blocked, respectively.
Other actions which can be taken to reduce the volume of incoming spam messages all have to do with limiting the ways in which your e-mail address is exposed to the public. Spammers obtain e-mail addresses from a wide range of legal sources, including business cards, newspaper articles, Web pages, member lists, customer lists, and message postings. They even collect jokes, chain letters, and other frequently forwarded e-mail messages that have hundreds of addresses on the top. Prudent rules to follow to minimize e-mail address exposure include: never replying to an e-mail message from spammers, even in order to use their "opt-out" buttons; hiding the addresses of recipients if you forward e-mail messages to large groups of people, and not including linked e-mail addresses in the company Web site.
Finally, it may be helpful to inform your own ISP when you receive spam, so that the system administrator can filter out future messages from that address. Many e-mail programs also feature filtering capabilities. Finally, if you are bombarded with e-mail from a company with which you have done business, or you find out that such a company has sold your e-mail address to a spammer, you can boycott the company's products or send an e-mail of protest to the company president.
see also Computer Crime; Electronic Mail
Garretson, Cara, and Ellen Messmer. "How To: Fighting Spam." Network World. 1 December 2003.
Gordon, Lawrence A., Martin P. Loeb, William Lucyshyn, and Robert Richardson. 2005 CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey. Computer Security Institute. Available from www.gocsi.com. Retrieved on 29 January 2006.
Grimes, Roger A. "SECURITY ADVISER: Time to Can the CAN-SPAM Act—Despite the FTC's Declaration of Success, Spam Isn't Getting Better, and It's Partly the CAN-SPAM Act's Fault." Info World. 23 January 2006.
Hinde, Stephen. "Smurfing, Swamping, Spamming, Spoofing, Squatting, Slandering, Surfing, Scamming, and Other Mischiefs of the World Wide Web." Computers and Security. May 2000.
Newman, Heather. "Do a Little Work to Give Spammer Unhappy Returns." Detroit Free Press. 28 February 2001.
Rodriguez, Karen. "Federal Lawmakers Propose Bill to End Spamming." Phoenix Business Journal. 12 May 2000.
Wallace, Ryan P., Adam M. Lusthaus, and Jong Hwan Kim. "Computer Crimes." American Criminal Law Review. Spring 2005.
Hillstrom, Northern Lights
updated by Magee, ECDI
Spam is a brand name for a canned meat product containing ham, pork, salt, flavorings, and preservatives that are mixed and cooked under vacuum pressure. There are other brands of similar canned pork meat products, but Spam—made by Hormel Foods Corporation—is the original and the best-selling of the brands.
The standard Spam can is brick-shaped and holds 7 oz (198 g) of meat. A 2-oz (57-g) serving contains 170 calories, provides 7 g of protein, 140 calories of fat, and has 0.75 g of sodium. It contains small amounts of cholesterol and iron. Americans eat approximately 3.8 cans per second. Two American plants produce 44,000 cans of Spam every hour. Hawaii consumes the most Spam in the world—about four million cans yearly (it is particularly popular in sushi).
Spam is an important protein source and economical as well. Unopened cans require no refrigeration and Spam has an indefinite shelf life because it is heat-sealed within the tin. It can, therefore, be shipped all over the world without spoiling. Thus, it is an important food source in many places where fresh meat is difficult to obtain or expensive (such as Hawaii and Guam). Spam has become a kitschy favorite with Spam t-shirts and cookbooks selling quite well. Spam has also made it onto the worldwide web with several websites dedicated to the product. The term spam has also come to mean unwanted junk e-mails received on personal computers.
Spam was first released onto the American market in 1937. Jay Hormel, the son of a successful Minnesota meat-packing house owner, was an energetic young man with big plans for his father's company. Hormel brought out canned ham in 1926. When his product was imitated, Hormel added spices to make it distinct. In the early 1930s, many companies were producing canned pork in large containers. Hormel's competition included lips, snouts, even ears in their meats but Hormel refused to use these refuse parts. Instead, he used the shoulder of the pig (a cut of meat rarely used because of its time-consuming removal from the bone). Hormel's meat was superior and more expensive than the competition's, but once opened it was indistinguishable. Hormel sought a way to seperate his product from the rest, and he decided to try two things: reduce the size of the can so it was family-sized and design a distinctive label.
Hormel's first experimental 12-oz (340-g) cans of this pork luncheon meat turned out to be 8 oz (227 g) of meat and 4 oz (113 g) of useless juice. As the heat cooked the meat in the sealed can, cells broke down and released an excessive amount of juice. Hormel tried many things to reduce the juice. Ultimately he discovering that it was not enough to put it in a can that was vacuum sealed, but the meat must also be mixed in a vacuum in order to minimize the juice released while cooking.
The new luncheon meat was not available for a while, awaiting a marketable name and an iconic label. After much dispute, the name Spam seemed perfect. Most believe it to be a combination of the words spiced and ham, but the original product contained no ham. (Hormel later added ham to the mixture because so many thought it was already in the product.) Upon release the meat was not an instant seller, but Spam was touted for its value and convenience.
By 1941, 40 million cans of Spam had been sold. During World War II, Spam was sent overseas to feed American G.I.s. Hormel supplied Allied troops with 15 million cans of Spam per week throughout the war. World leaders—including Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher, and Nikita Khrushchev—credited Spam for its effectiveness. After the war, Hormel actively advertised the product, getting big names to sing its praises. Plants overseas also began producing Spam. By 1959, Hormel had manufactured its billionth can. By 1962, the 12-oz (340-g) can was joined by a 7-oz (198-g) can for single people and small families. Other innovations included Spam with cheese chunks and smoke-flavored product (1972) and Spam-Lite (1992). A major re-design of the label occurred in 1997, and both the old and new version entered the Smithsonian.
The primary ingredient in Spam is chopped pork shoulder meat mixed with ham. About 90% of Spam is pork from a pig's shoulders. The remaining 10% (or so) comes from the pig's buttock and thigh, better known as ham. This ratio varies according to ham and pork prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not permit any nonmeat fillers in lunchmeat, nor does it allow pig snouts, lips, or ears. The second ingredient is salt, added for flavor and for use as a preservative. Also, a small amount of water is used to bind all ingredients together. Sugar is also included for flavor. Finally, sodium nitrate is added to prevent botulism and acts as a preservative as well. It is the sodium nitrite that gives Spam its bright pink color—without it, Spam would discolor and become brown.
The Manufacturing Process
- Pigs are no longer butchered by the Hormel Company, so meat is purchased from dealers and brought into the plant. Pork shoulders and ham are brought into the plant and cut apart. The pork shoulders are put into a powerful hydraulic press that literally squeezes the meat off the bone. The deboned meat is put into a large gondola or basket. Ham, however, must be cut away from the bone by hand. The meat-cutters remove and sort the meat from the shanks in the ham trim lines. The whitest, fattiest pieces are put into a large gondola marked "white," while meatier pieces are hand-sorted into one marked "red." The gondolas remain in a refrigerated area until they are needed.
- Next, the gondolas are wheeled from the cold storage area and onto the main floor. The meat is transferred to a crane-like machine and then dumped into a large metal trough equipped with a drill bit. There, the drill bit thoroughly grinds the red and white pieces dumped in the trough. The batch is weighed (usually about 8,000 lb [3,628 kg] at this point) and passed under a metal detector (to catch a stray knife or mixing component). A small sample of Spam is analyzed to ensure it has the right combination of pork to ham and white to red pieces.
- The ground meat is then distributed by the gondolas into several vacuum mixers. When these mixers are in the open position, they look like giant gas grills, but they are equipped with a refrigerated ammonia outer core that brings the meat temperature down to below freezing (32°F [0°C]). Then, the other ingredients in Spam—salt, sugar, water, and sodium nitrite—are added. The mixer lid is closed, creating an airtight seal, and the batch is mixed. The reason the vacuum is induced, the meat chilled, and the salt added is to reduce the amount of juice released by the meat when it is cooked. If too much liquid is released during cooking, the can would contain a large amount of gelatin.
- While the Spam is being mixed, machines elsewhere are pushing empty, upside-down Spam cans off storage pallets one layer at a time. The plain silver cans are pushed onto a conveyor belt and sent toward the filler.
- Nearly 1,000 lb (454 kg) of Spam is manually unloaded from the first mixer, dumped into receivers, and fed through pipes. The mixture moves through the pipes until it reaches the cone-shaped can fillers. As the cans travel undeneath the fillers, a device picks each one up and deposits the raw, ground Spam into the can (from the bottom) in one motion. The can is filled as the machine lifts it.
- The can is sealed at a closing machine. They are then stamped with an identifying code so that the product can be traced back to the manufacturer.
- Now, the closed cans head to the six-story-tall hydrostatic cooker. Spam is cooked in the can by very hot water within the cooker. The cans approach to cooker in a line, an arm swings out and pushes 24 cans onto a shelf. The shelf moves upward, and an arm swings out an pushes another group of cans onto a shelf. In two hours, 66,000 thousand cans will travel up and down 11 chambers in this huge cooker as they are heated, sterilized, washed, and cooled.
- As the cans leave the hydrostatic cooker, they are now cool and ready for labeling. The labels sit at the end of the cooker in long rolls. An automatic labeler attaches a polypropelene film label on each can, and the labeler cuts the label to the correct length.
- The cans are now ready for boxing. Twenty-four cans are fed onto flat pieces of cardboard, and a box is formed around the cans using the cardboard. The boxes are moved, and when a palette is filled with boxes, the entire pallet is shrink-wrapped. The cans are stamped with a date and other identifying numbers. A huge robot crane, driven by computer, transfers the pallet to a rack of shelving in the building. When the pallets get to the loading dock, then they are hoisted into the shelves by machines.
- The Spam cans cannot be shipped out for 10 days. One of every 1,000 cans produced must undergo extensive testing to make certain the meat was properly cooked. If there are no problems, the cans may be sold.
Hormel would likely agree that Spam begins with quality pork and ham. Hornel no longer supplies its own meat for Spam, but the company chooses the meat carefully. Meat-cutters who cut the meat from the ham carefully perform their tasks and throw the pieces into the appropriate gondola. Also, the huge hydrostatic cooker has an alarm that trips if the computer detects there is any problem with the batch. The workers must fix that problem within three minutes. If they don't, the entire batch's viability is in question.
Portions of each batch are examined to make sure the batch has the right amount of pork shoulder to ham. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not permit any Spam cans to leave the processing plant for 10 days. One out of every 1,000 cans be subjected to a 100°F (38°C) test to see if the can bulges or shows any other signs of improper cooking. The bacteria content is also tested. Finally, taste tests are routine at Hormel Foods Corporation. Every Friday all executives involved in Spam production meet to visually inspect (and sometimes taste) several different batches of Spam produced during the week.
Since Spam was first released it has undergone many transformations. From plain Spam to Turkey Spam to Spam-Lite. People are coming up with endless recipes that call for Spam, and Hormel is trying to incorporate every consumer's need into their product development. Spam with less sodium is now available. The launch of Hormel's website dedicated to Spain now provides consumers with a catalog devoted to Spam and Spam labeled products.
Where to Learn More
Wyman, Carol. Spam: A Biography. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999.
"Spam: An Authorized Biography." A Manual for Public Relations. Hormel Foods, 2000.
Spam, the electronic version of junk mail, stirred enormous controversy and heated opinions as the Internet economy developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Following a visit or a transaction on a given Internet site, a user may find his or her mailbox filled with electronic announcements offering everything from cheap airline tickets to limited-offer retail sales, from faster Internet access to online pornography. While the absence of postage costs creates an almost unbearable temptation for firms to send spam, the amount of bandwidth it consumes on commercial networks and in users' mailboxes raised the ire of many Internet users and providers. According to Forbes, estimates place spam at up to 30 percent of all e-mail traffic.
Spam solicitors employ sophisticated search programs to locate Internet addresses not only from their own e-mail lists and that of aligned companies, but also from standard online directories. Customers routinely wind up on a spammer's list when registering for a software download or entering information at the point of online purchase. Mainstream sites increasingly allow users to opt out of having their e-mail addresses shared with others or used for the site's own promotions, but these options often remain buried in the fine print.
Overwhelmingly the most common response to unsolicited commercial e-mail is to hit the delete button, just as the bulk of unsolicited traditional mail winds up in the wastebasket. Nonetheless, spam still causes some problems for the consumer. Unsolicited commercial e-mail consumes space on computer hard drives, and lengthy download times can be costly for those Internet users who pay for Internet access by the minute. Internet service providers, to attract customers and to keep them happy, increasingly offer spam-filtering services that eliminate the spam on their servers before the customer downloads his or her e-mail. In addition, most of the major e-mail programs, such as Netscape Messenger and Microsoft Outlook, came packaged with options to sort through incoming mail and separate spam into its own folder-or in the trash. But these programs, too, cost money to develop and implement and maintain. Thus, short of eliminating spam altogether, there is little way of preventing spam senders' cost savings from being shifted to someone else—either the recipient or the operator of the recipient's mail server.
Because of all these problems and annoyances, spam has long been a dirty word on the Internet, and many Internet privacy groups, Internet service providers (ISPs), consumer groups, and even legislators, have taken strides to clamp down on spam mail. Privacy groups such as Green Brook, New Jersey-based Junkbusters, and anti-spam groups led by the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) took up the fight against spam in the late 1990s. When the U.S. Congress first began debating in 2000 bills designed to limit the proliferation of spam, 16 states already had some form of anti-spam laws on their books, even as these laws varied greatly and were difficult to coordinate across state lines.
While Internet user groups and legislators increased their pressure on purveyors of spam in the early 2000s, spam supporters protested that the penalization of spam would result in severely hindered marketing opportunities. Since it entails such low costs, even the very few sales generated by spam make the bulk e-mails worthwhile, and thus companies remain attracted to it. In some cases, companies prefer to fight the negative publicity generated from spam by cleaning up their unsolicited e-mail, taking great pains to distinguish their spam as responsible and customer friendly by the measured tone and the ability, within the e-mail, for the recipient to opt out of the spammer's list. Spam activists, however, believe the most responsible measure marketers can take before soliciting via e-mail, however, is to obtain the recipient's permission before sending the e-mail, at which point it would no longer be considered spam.
Armstrong, Larry. "Making Mincemeat Out of Unwanted Email." Business Week, December 18, 2000.
Blakely, Kiri. "Spam Warfare." Forbes, September 18, 2000.
Borrus, Amy, and John Carey. "Angry About Junk e-Mail? Congress Is Listening." Business Week, April 23, 2001.
Goldsborough, Reid. "Be Smart When Sending Email to the Masses." Link-up, November/December 2000.
Johnston, Margret. "Cracking Down on Spam." InfoWorld, July 24, 2000.
Philbrick, Charles L., and Matthew Z. Hammoudeh. "Lawmakers Search for Ingredients to Make Spam Less Appetizing." Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal, October 2000.
Wildstrom, Stephen H. "It's Time to Can the Spam." Business Week, March 12, 2001, 24.
SEE ALSO: Netiquette; Privacy: Issues, Policies, Statements
Internet Spam and Fraud
Internet Spam and Fraud
█ K. LEE LERNER
An increasingly costly and vexing economic security issue involves the high traffic in unsolicited commercial email (termed "spam") and the use of internet communication to commit fraud.
Nearly one-half of the estimated 50 billion email messages sent each day are spam mail that contain usually misleading or fraudulent representations for products or services ranging from health and well-being products to pornography. Internet experts assert that nearly 90 percent of the spam mail sent is sent by a network of less than 200 individuals or direct marketing companies that use spam. Spam is costly to Internet service providers (ISP) and to consumers in terms of money, time, and bandwidth. Spam can also disrupt the normal operation of many network systems. Current efforts to curb spam involve legal restrictions and technical measures to block the transfer of such messages.
Spam technology commonly exploits openings in the program structure of computers (e.g. open proxies, etc.) attached to the Internet that are then designated to act as relays for sending spam. Spammers use special programs to identify vulnerable computers. Messages relayed from these computers often carry only the "innocent" relaying computer's identification. Special internet spiders can also be used by spammers to extract email addresses from websites.
In late April 2003, the state of Virginia enacted tough anti-spam laws and congressional leaders promised action on similar measures at the federal level. One legislative initiative, the "Can Spam Act," would include civil fines for senders of commercial e-mail with fraudulent or otherwise invalid return email addresses. Virginia's law potentially subjects repeat or "serial" spammers to felony penalties. That tough legislation was first passed in Virginia is significant because Virginia hosts a number of major Internet hubs and providers, including the United States' largest ISP, America Online.
The first anti-spam bill was passed by Nevada in 1997, and about half of all states have such laws. Some simply require that bulk email senders offer email recipients a method to prevent further mailings from a particular sender. Other laws prohibit false identifiers, misleading subject headings or require unsolicited e-mail to be identified with "ADV" in the subject line. Messages with a characteristic label or portion of text in their subject line are more easily filtered from email traffic. Conventional filters can also scan email for characteristic strings of text such as "no prescription required" that often accompany fraudulent email related to drugs normally available only by prescription. Other Congressional proposals include the potential creation of a national registry of addresses who do not want to receive spam.
█ FURTHER READING:
Mulligan, Geoff. Removing the Spam: Email Processing and Filtering. Boston: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1999.
Frank, Diane. "Cybersecurity Center Takes Shape." Federal Computer Week 16, no. 4 (February 18, 2002): 10.
Computer and Electronic Data, Destruction
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986
Computer Keystroke Recorder
Computer Software Security
Internet: Dynamic and Static Addresses
Internet Tracking and Tracing
Spam is simultaneously one of the most liked and most hated foods of all time. Around sixty million Americans eat Spam on a regular basis. Millions more have unpleasant childhood memories of the processed meat and its clinging jelly. Created during the Great Depression (1929–41; see entry under 1930s—The Way We Lived in volume 2) by Hormel and Co., Spam is a cheap, convenient food that became popular during the lean years of World War II (1939–45). Although it is often the butt of jokes, some Spam fans take their canned meat very seriously. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) credited Spam with saving the Soviet army from starvation during World War II. In South Korea, Spam is sold in gift packs.
During the Depression, canned meat was the only form of protein many Americans could afford. The Hormel company dominated the market, selling tins of beef stew for just a few cents. In 1937, a pork-based luncheon meat joined the product range. Looking around for a name for his spiced meat, Jay C. Hormel (1892–1954) held a competition. Guests at his New Year's party were forced to "buy" their drinks by suggesting a name. An actor, Kenneth Daigneau, came up with "Spam" (the first two letters of "spiced" and the last two letters of "ham").
In the twenty-first century, Spam has a cult following. Some fans of Spam even write poetry in its honor. Spam's humorous side is partly explained by the name. Early advertising did not help: featuring comedians George Burns (1896–1996) and Gracie Allen (1906–1964), the ads recommended "Spambled eggs" and "Spamwiches."
Though meat is no longer scarce, Spam trademarked and sold in 111 countries in 2001. Because the product seems to be everywhere, the word "spam" has come to mean flooding a computer system with unwanted data. To be sure, the tinned meat is more popular. The Spam factory at Austin—"Spamtown"—Minnesota, produces 435 cans of Spam every minute. It is estimated that by 2001 almost 6 billion cans of Spam had graced breakfast and dinner tables around the world.
For More Information
Cho, John, ed. Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.
Garcia, Dan. Spam.http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~ddgarcia/spam.html (accessed on February 8, 2002).
Hormel Foods Corporation. It's Spam.http://www.spam.com (accessed on February 8, 2002).
Wyman, Carolyn. Spam: A Biography. New York: Harvest Books, 1999.