Center: the mummy-like world's oldest ham.
Center: the mummy-like world's oldest ham. Mega-ham is on the left.

World's Oldest Edible Ham

Field review by the editors.

Smithfield, Virginia

The most prized artifact in the small Isle of Wight County Museum is the world's oldest edible cured ham.

Secrets of Ham Mold.

The ham was cured on July 7, 1902, by a local pork processor, Pembroke D. Gwaltney Jr. Then the ham was misplaced and forgotten. When it was rediscovered, decades later, Pembroke knew he had a ham worth its weight in gold. He outfitted the ham with a brass collar, called it his "pet ham," and showed it to customers as proof of his ability to preserve meat without refrigeration. It made his company famous enough to eventually merge into the pork behemoth Smithfield Foods.

The ham outlasted its tireless promoter and, in 1985, it was donated to the museum by one of Pembroke's grandchildren. One of the jobs of the curator of the Isle of Wight County Museum is to keep the ham edible by keeping it free of bugs and mold. The ham -- which now somewhat resembles a shriveled human arm -- shares a special climate-controlled case with two other famous hams, one of them said to be the world's largest.

Despite its great age, the ham is still younger than another food item displayed in the museum: the world's oldest peanut. It was picked and dated "1890" by Pembroke's father, P.D. Gwaltney Sr., known in his time as "The Peanut King." Unlike the ham, however, the museum makes no claim that it is edible.

World's Oldest Edible Ham

Isle of Wight County Museum

103 Main St., Smithfield, VA
Isle of Wight County Museum. I-64 exit 263A (Mercury Blvd/US 258). South on US 258, across the James River Bridge, for 17.5 miles. Turn right on Main St. in Smithfield, then one-half mile to Museum.
M-Sa 10-4, Su 12-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $2.00
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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