Donald Goerke, executive who created SpaghettiOs

Donald Goerke, who had a big hand in the development of SpaghettiOs, also created Campbell’s Chunky soup line. Donald Goerke, who had a big hand in the development of SpaghettiOs, also created Campbell’s Chunky soup line. (Associated Press/Campbell Soup Co.)
By Margalit Fox
New York Times / January 15, 2010

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NEW YORK - Donald Goerke, a Campbell Soup Co. executive whose nonlinear approach to pasta resulted in SpaghettiOs, died Sunday at his home in Delran, N.J. He was 83.

The cause was heart failure, his son David said.

Introduced in 1965, SpaghettiOs has been a fixture in the American pantry ever since. Its memorable advertising jingle - “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs!’’ - sung by the pop singer Jimmie Rodgers, is indelibly lodged in the public consciousness. More than 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year, a spokeswoman for Campbell, based in Camden, N.J., said.

Mr. Goerke, who worked for Campbell from 1955 until he retired in 1990, also created the company’s Chunky soup line.

Donald Edward Goerke was born in Waukesha, Wis., on Aug. 8, 1926. (The family name is pronounced GUR-key.) He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from what was then Carroll College in Waukesha and an master of business administration from the University of Wisconsin.

Besides his son David, Mr. Goerke leaves another son, Brian; a daughter, Ann Nassoura; a brother, Fred; and seven grandchildren. His wife, the former June Marie Uthus, died in 2008.

Mr. Goerke was a marketing manager with Franco-American, then a division of Campbell, when he was asked to supervise the development of a canned pasta for children.

The shape was crucial on two counts. The first was durability: It had to withstand canning and reheating. The second was damage control: long pasta and young children mix dangerously, with child, chair, and walls ending up beribboned with dripping strands.

A simple “O,’’ Mr. Goerke realized, would solve both problems. Its stable shape allowed a thinner strand of pasta to be used, making the reheated product less gummy. It also fit tidily in the bowl of a spoon.

Shapes considered and rejected by Mr. Goerke’s team included baseballs, cowboys, spacemen, and stars.