When asked to devise a new food for kids, Donald Goerke’s response was far from canned.
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While this product has filled the tummies of American children for decades, it’s likely that parents who snag it at the grocery store don’t know the name of its creator.
Waukesha County native Donald Goerke MBA’51 is considered the DaddyO of SpaghettiOs, the exceedingly popular canned pasta that was introduced to the public in 1965. Born in Waukesha in 1926, Goerke helped the Waukesha High School basketball team win the 1944 state championship before earning an MBA at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He then began his career at the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company and devoted 35 years to the Campbell Soup Company until his retirement in 1990.
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,” he said.
Goerke put those skills to work when asked to develop an easy-to-eat meal for children. He opted for a round pasta that could stand up to canning and reheating. Kids could eat it 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 had the ability to turn market research into robust sales.
Goerke’s contributions didn’t start and end with circular pasta. He helped to introduce more than 100 products — including Chunky, a ready-to-eat soup — that earned the company $500 million in sales.
When Goerke died of heart failure in 2010 in New Jersey, a New York Times obituary noted his “nonlinear approach to pasta.” By then, more than 175 million cans of his invention were being sold each year.
Thank you, Waukesha County, for Donald Goerke — and for helping to make America’s food industry go ’round.