On May 16, 1965, an iconic food hit grocery-store shelves for the first time. It was called SpaghettiOs. Although this product has filled the tummies of American children for decades, you may not know that the creator of the “neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon” grew up in Wisconsin. 

Waukesha County native Donald Goerke is considered the daddy-o of SpaghettiOs, the exceedingly popular canned pasta. Born in Waukesha in 1926, Goerke helped the Waukesha High School basketball team to win the 1944 state championship before earning an MBA at the University of Wisconsin n 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 those 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 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’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 — that garnered $500 million in sales for the company.

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.