A Brief History of SPAM

A Brief History of SPAM
I read recently that Hormel, the makers of SPAM, have given up fighting the use of its trademark to represent unwanted email messages. Since they can’t stop the use of the term, they are inssiting that when referring to the meat product, SPAM should be spelled in all caps.

The current economic climate has led Hormel to begin a new marketing campaign for the marvelous meat, touting SPAM as a nutritious and low-cost meal solution for every household from the White House to your house.

Knowing how universally loved SPAM is (the meat, not the mail) it does seem that the product has gotten a raw deal. Ooh, I can see the puns are just going to keep coming in this article.

How did this association come about?

Can SPAM be saved?

Hormel developed America’s first canned ham (”Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham”) in 1926, and eleven years later developed the first canned meat product that did not require refrigeration. It was a ”distinctive chopped pork shoulder and ham mixture” developed by Jay C. Hormel, son of Hormel founder George A. Hormel, and marketed as ”Hormel Spiced Ham” – not a terribly inspiring name for an innovative product fated to save lives, win wars, and balance diets of people world wide.

In order to hold onto market share with the introduction of other canned meat products, Hormel launched a campaign to find a catchy name for their product. the winner, as I’m sure you can guess, was SPAM.

In 1940, SPAM was the subject of quite possibly the first singing commercial. During World War II, sales boomed. Not only was SPAM great for the military, as it required no refrigeration, it wasn’t rationed as beef was, so it became a prime staple in American meals. Nikita Kruschev credits SPAM with the survival of the Russian Army during WWII.

OK, enough about meat. I can’t say that it’s making me hungry, but I am feeling some type of discomfort at dwelling on the subject, so let’s move on. Why do we use the term “SPAM” for unwanted email messages that we all receive?

Thank Monty Python
Most people have some vague awareness that the use of the term “SPAM” may have come from the spam skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In the sketch, a restaurant serves all its food with lots of spam, and the waitress repeats the word several times in describing how much spam is in the items.

When she does this, a group of guys in the corner start a song:

“Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!” Watch it Here.

Until told to shut up.

Thus the meaning of the term at least: something that keeps repeating and repeating to great annoyance. Sounds like the fake Rolex messages that keep finding their way into my inbox.

SPAM Before Email?
Before the internet was “the internet,” there were BBS’s, USENET, and MUDs. These are:

BBS – Bulletin Board Services – Basically you log on and post a text message that others can read

Usenet – A “newsgroup” or listing of files and articles that anyone can contribute to by uploading pictures, files or text articles. Newsgroups are still widely used. All of the major Internet Service Providers offer newsgroup servers.

Mud’s – Multi User Dungeons – Think “Everquest” or “The Sims,” but without pictures or 3d graphics. these were all text based communities where role playing “Dungeons and Dragons” type games were played. Essentially, this is the successor to the original “chat rooms.”

These types of services were what the internet was about in the late 70’s and 80’s. No one had computers at home, there was no such thing as email, and html (the language most web pages are created in) did not exist.

The first known unsolicited electronic message sent for commercial purposes was in 1978. Throughout the 1980’s, before e-mail was so popular and widespread, spammers annoyed users of bulletin boards, chat rooms, and MUDs by flooding the conversations with commercial messages. The flooding of message boards and chat rooms was called “flooding” or “trashing” before it became known as “spamming.”

In 1986 a man named Dave Rhodes became one of the first people to send what is now regarded as a dreadful form of spam messages. Dave Rhodes was a supposed College student, however there is no record that a Dave Rhodes attended the college he said he did or that he actually existed at all. The email that he was claimed to have sent was advertising a Pyramid Scheme. This message was sent to a newsgroup called Usenet. Sadly a lot of people probably sent their hard earned cash to Dave Rhodes only to get nothing in return.

In 1993 a man called Richard Depew wrote a program that would delete postings from newsgroups; ironically this program had a bug in it and ended up posting 200 messages to the News Admin Policy Newsgroup. This is the first instance of messages being called ‘spam.’

In 1994, two attorneys known as Cantor and Siegel became two of the most hated users of the internet after posting an advertisement to 6,000 newsgroups all at the same time.

In 1998, the dictionary added the following definition to the word spam: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.”

SPAM Today
Today, there are over 90 million spam e-mails sent every day. It is estimated that over 85% of all the e-mail sent over the Internet is spam.

Although spam is a tremendous waste of space and time, it continues to be used because it works. Over 8% of Internet users say they have bought a product directly because of a spam message. Alright America! if you wouldn’t click on it, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem!

It is also estimated that Microsoft creator Bill Gates receives four million emails per year, with spam making up a large majority.

Avoiding spam is nearly impossible, but e-mail providers today are doing an increasingly better job of keeping it separate from legitimate electronic messages. Available Technology has products that block SPAM messages either at the server or at the desktop. These products are more than 99% effective at removing spam from your inbox. Call us to get a handle on your spam problem.

I remember Mom serving up SPAM once in a while. I have never been a fan; however, I do support Hormel’s efforts to once and for all separate the association of their flagship product with unsolicited email. We’ll do our part one spam message at a time.

Who knows? I may even try a SPAM and cheese sandwich or some SPAM and eggs. Click here for SPAM recipes.


For information on any of the information in this month’s newsletter, please call Available Technology at 864.232.1234

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