‘World’s Oldest Ham’ turns 121

Published 4:48 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The “World’s Oldest Ham” celebrated its 121st birthday at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield on July 7-8.

In 1902, one of P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s Smithfield hams went overlooked and for 20 years hung from a rafter inside a packing house. When Gwlatney found it in the 1920s, he fashioned a brass collar for it, calling it his “pet,” and took it on tour around the country, touting it as the world’s oldest ham and evidence of the preservative powers of his curing method.

The museum gained custody of the ham in 1985. The summer date celebrated as the ham’s “birthday” reflects the date Smithfield hams were traditionally ready for consumption. The curing process would typically begin in the fall or winter when temperatures were cooler.

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For several years, the museum has invited children to drop off their stuffed animals for a July 7 “sleepover” party, followed by a July 8 celebration. The events drew more than 100 guests, including one from Northern Virginia. Alex Cole, a 2023 graduate of Independence High School in Ashburn, wrote his senior high school paper on the ham and stopped by the museum on July 8 for the celebration.