CAMDEN, N.J. – Donald Goerke, the man who put the “Oh” in SpaghettiOs®, choked to death Sunday night while eating his customary bedtime snack of SpaghettiOs® and chocolate milk. He was eighty-three.
Mr. Goerke joined the Campbell organization in 1955 as a market analyst. The venerable soupmaking firm had been resting on its ladles since developing a technique for removing the water and the flavor from real soup several decades before, but change was on the menu.
“We became flavor conscious for a time,” said Muffy Dorrance, a Campbell spokesperson. “Don was promoted to marketing research director of our Franco-American line and was given the task of creating foods that at least children would enjoy eating.”
Mr. Goerke and his crew set to work conjuring up pasta shapes that would appeal to kids. After rejecting numerous shapes—including the letter “N” because it looked like a swastika when it got wet, and the letter “I,” which swelled up like an eager penis—Mr. Goerke settled on the 0 shape. The result was introduced on May 16, 1965.
SpaghettiOs® were an immediate success with kids, college students, and bums, as homeless people were called then. The jaunty little 0s in the vivid orange sauce eventually achieved iconic status when SpaghettiOs® wrestling became popular on the singles-bar circuit.
Mr. Goerke retired from Campbell in 1990 after devoting thirty-five years to the company.
“Given the tragic circumstances of Don’s death,” said Ms. Dorrance, “we don’t know how to proceed with any tributes to him. We still have several cans from the first production run for SpaghettiOs®, maybe we’ll open one or two of them and suck them down in his memory.”
In related news, the Food Network says it still plans to use SpaghettiOs® as the secret ingredient in a future Iron Chef competition.