Canned and packaged comfort foods are making a huge comeback right now. With people stuck inside, they are turning to old-school, non-perishable items. One of those iconic classics hit grocery-store shelves for the first time 55 years ago, on May 16, 1965. It was called SpaghettiOs and marketed as the “neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon.” It was created by a University of Wisconsin grad.
Waukesha County native Donald Goerke is considered the daddy-o of SpaghettiOs. Born in 1926, Goerke helped the Waukesha High School basketball team win the 1944 state championship before earning an MBA at the University of Wisconsin in 1951. After beginning his career in marketing at the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company, he devoted 35 years to the Campbell Soup Company until his 1990 retirement.
His son Brian noted that Goerke’s education in statistics allowed him to offer his employer a rare talent. “To have somebody who knew the numbers and could work with agencies and creative types … it’s not a usual kind of combination.”
Donald Goerke put his skills to work when he was asked to develop an easy-to-eat meal for children. He opted for a round pasta that could stand up to canning and reheating, and that kids could eat with a spoon without making a mess, much to the delight of parents. The jingle that accompanied television ads ended with the hummable, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs.” The product permeated pop culture, with Goerke appearing on Today and What’s My Line? and autographing cans at company-sponsored events.
Goerke’s contributions didn’t start and end with circular pasta, however. He helped to introduce more than 100 products — including Chunky, a ready-to-eat soup.
When Goerke passed away in 2010 in New Jersey, a New York Times obituary noted his “nonlinear approach to pasta,” with more than 175 million cans of his invention being sold each year.
The story of Donald Goerke — and many other UW–Madison alumni who have changed the world — is featured on allwaysforward.org/wi salute to outstanding Badgers from every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.