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How Spam and Chocolate Served American Troops Well in WWII

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 25, 2023 3:01 am

How Spam and Chocolate Served American Troops Well in WWII

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 25, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Anne Claire tells the story of Spam and Hershey, and how those two companies fed the spirit and morale of American G.I.s overseas, becoming part of our "arsenal of Democracy"

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And we return to our American Stories. Up next, the story of how Spam and Hersey's Chocolate became the most recognizable pieces of the American soldier's diet during World War II. Here to tell the story is writer and schoolteacher Anne Claire.

Take it away, Anne. They say an army marches on its stomach. And with millions of Americans serving in the Second World War, there were plenty of stomachs to be kept fed. Now, of course, there were a number of ways the US accomplished this. But today, I'd like to just take a minute and look at the really interesting history behind two very different staples. Spam and chocolate. So let's start with a little bit of history of Spam.

Spam's history goes way back to 1937, during the later half of the Great Depression. The Hormel Meat Company of Austin, Minnesota, spearheaded by the founder's son, Jay, was looking for ways to expand their fresh meat business into canned goods. Now, this took some trial and error to make something palatable that they could also can. But eventually, he successfully produced a moist canned meat made from pork shoulder. They did a little contest to try and figure out a good name for this new product.

And the company VP's brother won the honor and christened the new product Spam. Now, the timing really couldn't have been better, because, of course, 1937, you have the hostilities of the Second World War really starting to escalate in Europe. And the war officially began in 1939. Now, around that time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act. And the Lend-Lease Act was kind of a way for the US to be involved in the war without really being involved in the war. FDR promised to support allied powers by lending them or leasing them certain supplies.

For instance, food or shipping and things like that, while still technically remaining neutral. Now, this meant that there was a lot of food being shipped overseas, lots of different goods being sent to Britain and then to the USSR once they became an allied country. And it was just it was a lot, a lot to send across.

That was a challenge. But what better product to send than easily shipped canned meats like Spam? According to the official Spam website, over 100 million pounds were shipped to our troops alone once we officially joined the conflict. Now, of course, even fans of Spam might say that there is too much of a good thing. And there were certain spammy jokes that passed around during that time.

But whether you love it or not, the canned meat helps feed millions, which is not bad for an underutilized cut of pork mixed with some salt and some starch and sugar and water. It's still sold in 44 countries, according to the museum site. And in 2012, when it celebrated its 75th anniversary, the Spam company produced its 8 millionth can. So, served a purpose and it's still going strong. The other items history that I'd like to look at today is one of my favorite ones. And if I'm going to have sweets chocolates, the first choice, it's about the taste, because why would you ever want a bad tasting bar of chocolate?

Aha. But going back to 1937, with war looming on the horizon, that's exactly what Captain Paul Logan wanted the Hershey company to create. But he had a good reason. Because again, though the U.S. wouldn't officially enter the Second World War until 1941, the conflict between Japan and China was ratcheting up in the Pacific.

And in Europe, the National Socialist German Workers Party, commonly known to history as the Nazis, had begun rearming Germany in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The unrest in the world spurred the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General into preparation. They wanted to plan ahead and have a small, light, high-energy emergency ration ready to go, just, you know, in case. And, well, what could be better than a chocolate bar? The problem was that a traditional Hershey bar wouldn't do, because, well, if you have kids like me or you've ever tried to eat a chocolate bar on a hot day, you know what happens.

It melts immediately and gets over every piece of furniture imaginable. Standard chocolate's low melting point wouldn't withstand a soldier's pocket. And if it really tasted good, it might tempt him to eat the treat before it was strictly necessary.

That wouldn't work great for an emergency ration. So, what Logan asked the chemist at Hershey to do was come up with a bar that fit certain specifications. It needed to weigh four ounces, and it needed to be rich in nutrients and energy. And, according to reports that I've read, he asked for it to taste about as good as a boiled potato. So, chemist Sam Hinkle rose to the task and created the D-Ration Bar. This thing included oat flour and vitamins, it had reduced sugar and increased cocoa, it weighed in at 600 calories, and reportedly had a consistency that could shatter teeth.

Yum! Now, this was a problem for the factory because their traditional chocolate processing wouldn't really work. This stuff was really thick and viscous. So, the original batches had to be pressed into molds by hand.

And, as more became more imminent, the Hershey company had to come up with specialized automation processes to really get these things going. From different sources I've read, troop reviews on the chocolate bars were mixed. Some sources record them being called Hitler's secret weapon because if you overindulged, there were certain unpleasant gastrointestinal consequences. But others also say that it really wasn't too bad, if they were hungry enough.

And having spoken a little bit with some people who were alive in Europe during this time, you hear stories of the G.I. 's handing out chocolate bars to locals and things. You know, they've said, after not having candy for a long time, it just wasn't too bad at all.

But, I guess, as long as you remember not to overindulge, it served its purpose. Now, in 1943, the Army's procurement division asked Hershey to produce a new bar, which would also be heat resistant, but they wanted it to have a little bit of a better flavor. And from that project came the Hershey's tropical chocolate bar.

This one was around a little longer. I have looked into the deration bars just to see if it was something I could still find because I'd try it. It's chocolate. They aren't produced anymore. Neither is the tropical bar, but it did last until 1971, at least, to go into space and to the moon with the crew of Apollo 15. Whether people loved it or hated it, the special ration-grade Hershey's bar did serve its purpose. An estimated three billion units were produced and distributed to troops around the world from 1940 to 1945.

But, as I said, we can't find them nowadays, so I guess we have to just stick with the tasty stuff. And a great job on the editing, production, and storytelling by our own Billy Foster. And a special thanks to Ann Claire for sharing this story. And what a story it is. It's not a big story, but my goodness, what spam did. The number of units served.

It's just, it's mind-boggling. A hundred million pounds of spam. And then three billion units of Hershey's. Again, the Arsenal democracy didn't just happen with our plane manufacturing. It was our food, our oil, and so much more. The story of American production, and heart, told through the story of spam and chocolate, here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-25 04:22:45 / 2023-05-25 04:26:22 / 4

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