Donald Edward Goerke, the “Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs,” died on Jan. 10 of heart failure. He was 83.
Born in Waukesha, Wis., Goerke served in the Army Air Force during World War II, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Carroll College and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. He started his career in marketing as a researcher for the Blatz Brewery before landing a marketing analyst job at the Campbell Soup Company.
During his 35-year career with Campbell’s, Goerke introduced more than 100 products, including Chunky Soup, a hearty ready-to-serve soup that “eats like a meal.” This product was a radical departure from the company’s traditional line of condensed soups, which require the addition of either milk or water.
But Goerke was best known for inventing SpaghettiOs, a reheatable pasta covered in a sweet tomato and cheese sauce. In the early 1960s, he and his team began brainstorming ways to make canned pasta more appealing to children. After considering various shapes, including stars and rocketships, Goerke decided to keep it simple and sell pasta that looked like a tiny “O.”
The product was an instant hit with American families when it launched in 1965 with the catchy commercial jingle, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs.” Parents and children both liked the fact that the food was “spoonable,” easy to make and fun to eat. Today, more than 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year. SpaghettiOs now come in five variations (original, pasta with meatballs, pasta fortified with extra calcium, RavioliOs and pasta with sliced franks) and two other shapes (A to Zs and fun shapes).
Although he left the company in 1990, Goerke came out of retirement five years later to help promote the 30th anniversary of SpaghettiOs on “The Today Show” and “What’s My Line?”
Goerke was described by friends and family as kind, even-tempered, outgoing and loyal. He was active in community affairs and served as the former president of the Merchantville, N.J., school board. The husband, father, grandfather and avid golf player was also an active member of the Riverton Country Club in Cinnaminson, N.J.