Consumerism in Post-War America

1929 advertisement for Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham; an illustration happy and attractive American family enjoys a Hormel Ham for dinner. The ad states: "Cooking Freedom!" The ad includes promotion of the quality and taste of the product and a message of patriotism that comes with choosing Hormel. The ad also contains an illustration of the product and a recipe for baked ham.

1929 advertisement for Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham. UWEC McIntyre Library Special Collections and Archives.  

During WWII, 90% of goods produced by the Hormel Corporation went to feed the military, as the armed forces purchased 150 million pounds of SPAM. This extended exposure to the products and affiliation with them being the base for dietary needs caused many soldiers to continue buying them after their return to the U.S.

As the president of Hormel foods (from 1929 to 1954) and a veteran himself, Jay Hormel appealed to this connection with veterans, tying the Hormel coropration to military service by advertising in service-related publications.


SPAM ad on the cover of Foreign Service magazine, 1947, a monthly U.S. veteran's magazine; an illustration shows a well-dressed veteran being presented with SPAM on Thanksgiving by a beautiful smiling wife. His expression is wary, as a smiling older woman in a dress and apron brings a turkey in from the kitchen.

SPAM featured on the cover of Foreign Service magazine in 1947. UWEC McIntyre Library Special Collections and Archives. 

 After the end of the war, the way companies tried to appeal to consumers began to shift. Prior to the war, advertising for food especially was focused heavily on the product itself, relying on paragraphs testifying to quality to sell the product.

Post-war, many companies began to make the ads simpler, affiliating their products with something consumers trusted in place of written testimony.

With patriotism and recent victory fresh in their minds, the military became advertising's de-facto stamp of approval.  

SPAM's continued presence as a staple for Allied troops during the war, alongside Hormel advertisements linking the company with American ideals of freedom and service, created an immediate association between Hormel products and patriotism. After the war, Jay Hormel furthered this connection by forming the Hormel Girls in 1946, a band comprised of women veterans. 

Hormel Girls march in rows in a field surrounded by trees. The women are wearing conservative military inspired skirt suits. One woman leads out front, the first row of women carries Hormel banners. Another woman observes from the side.

The newly-formed Hormel Girls' Band. Photo courtesey of Hormel Foods. 


Sex Sells: a Cultural & Marketing Shift  

Beginning in the late 1940s and into the early 50s, a transition occurred in marketing techniques. Companies began to appeal to more than people's sense of patriotism, but also to standards of female beauty. 

For the Hormel Girls, what began as a company-funded woman veterans' military band became a marketing tool composed of young and attractive women singing and traveling around the country to sell Hormel products. The use of women, their appearance, and sexuality and femininity to appeal to consumers played into a marketing technique that exists to this day, often referred to simply as "sex sells".  

The Hormel Girls in uniform at Shreveport; 18 Hormel Girls perform for a large auditorium with a dirt floor. A sizeable audience looks on. The women wear conservative militaristic uniforms of two-piece skirt suits and felt hats.

The Hormel Girls in military uniform in Shreveport, LA., 1948. UWEC McIntyre Library Special Collections and Archives.


In the beginning, the Hormel Girls’ band uniforms were similar to those they wore during their military service. However, over the course of the band’s tenure, one can see a distinct transformation in their concert attire. There is a shift from formal, military-inspired dress to informal and even flirtatious or revealing outfits.

Since the early days of the group, the ways in which the Girls' clothing was regulated was apparent in letters Eleanor Jones sent her parents. Commenting on the regulations for their military attire and appearance, in 1948 Eleanor writes: “after we had put on our uniforms we couldn’t sit down, so consequently we stood in new shoes for three hours. Our feet and legs were numb with fatigue.”

In the same correspondence, Eleanor notes that the ensemble’s director, Mr. Backnodt,“treats us in the most unbecoming manner.” 

Three of the Hormel Girls pose for a photograph with their instruments; two women stand up in the back, the one on the left holds a viola, and the one on the right holds an upright bass. The woman in front is kneeling with an acoustic guitar. the women are wearing matching satin gowns with short puffy sleeves. The hems are ankle length with flower appliques and ruffles. The woman on the back right sports a large bow atop her head.

Three of the Hormel Girls pose for a photograph with their instruments. UWEC McIntyre Library Special Collections and Archives.  


In the space of just a few years, the Hormel Girls moved from crisp, austere military uniforms to dresses with feather accents, sequins, mountains of tulle, plunging necklines and lots of leg. The change indicates not only  a conscious choice by the Hormel company to leverage the band’s femininity and sexuality to increase sales, but also a larger cultural shift in societal norms and gender expectations in the US. The use of sexuality—for women, men, and even inanimate objects—to appeal to consumers and sell products is still very much a part of advertising today. 

Hormel Girls Performance Group Photograph; 7 Hormel Girls pose in glamourous makeup and feather headdresses. The women wear low cut off the shoulder dresses that show off their decolletage, and full frilly skirts. The 3 women in the front row show off their bare legs and satin pumps.

A group of Hormel Girls pose before a performance. UWEC McIntyre Library Special Collections and Archives.  

Just for fun!

Explore a 3-D model of a 1950's-era can of SPAM. By Benny Rizo on Sketchfab.