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If It Weren’t for a Wife Guy, There Would Be No Goldfish Crackers

How one of the most romantic tales in snack history got lost to cheesy marketing to children

Goldfish crackers are best known as the go-to snack for hungry and crabby children everywhere. But as it turns out, kids were far from the intended audience. Or to put it in more internet-y terms, TIL:

To fill in some of the blanks, Goldfish crackers, originally called Goldfischli, were created in 1958 by Swiss baker Oscar Kambly as a birthday gift to his wife, who happened to be born in the month of March. And so, he shaped the birthday crackers into her astrological sign — the Pisces fish.

Back in 2010, Kambly’s grandson and company chairman, Oscar Kambly III, explained to the Swiss news site SWI that his grandfather, who founded the family company in 1910, displayed wife guy energy pretty early on. “He happened to meet a girl from Trubschachen at his commercial school in the French-speaking part of [western] Switzerland. They fell in love and he decided to come [to Trubschachen, which is in the center of the country],” Kambly III said at the time. “He came here as a baker and he started to bake Bretzeli — that was a family recipe — for his friends and for the village. It was such a success in the region that he decided to start a business.”

In 1958, “right after the birthday breakfast, he went to his office and sketched the amusing, cheerful little goldfish,” Chantal van der Voort, a representative of the Kambly firm, told the Courier Post last year. “He called for the technician who made a hand mold that same morning, and in the afternoon, he baked the first ‘Goldfish’ himself and presented them to his dear wife that evening.” 

By 1959, Goldfischli had made their way to 17 different countries. They didn’t, however, swim their way across the Atlantic until 1962, when Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin stumbled on the wife guy crackers on vacation in Switzerland. According to van der Voort, Rudkin licensed the trademark to the Goldfish shape and recipe. Although Rudkin initially introduced cheese, barbecue, pizza and smoky flavors — in addition to the original lightly salted take on oyster crackers — the Kambly company didn’t update their flavors until 1983, making them decidedly more European with caraway, paprika, tomato, cheese and herb flavors. 

Over the years, Campbell’s has sold fish-shaped cookies, bread and even noodles, apparently to appeal to more fish-shape-enthusiast consumer demos. But never in any of this fishy marketing or product innovation has there been any mention of the astrological origins of this cracker — let alone the story of a devoted husband who knows how to make the most of a homemade birthday gift. 

“I’m surprised it’s not a more well-known story,” says comedian Lindsay Adams, who stumbled on Kambly’s story while doing research for a Goldfish episode of her podcast, Snack Time. “It’s just a really creative romantic gift.” Adams speculates that Pepperidge Farm probably doesn’t lead with the anecdote because their crackers are marketed to children who don’t exactly have dating and marriage top-of-mind. However, Adams also suspects that both the Swiss and American versions of the origin story previously shied away from the story because astrology wasn’t the cultural and internet sensation it is today. “Now it’s a hot trend, and they should jump the fuck on it,” Adams jokes.

Adams’ own wife guy gets the power of snacks-as-a-gift: For her birthday in 2019, her husband surprised her by decorating their kitchen table with all of her favorite frivolous indulgences — Nerds Gummy Clusters, various licorices and Hostess Donettes cereal. Sure, there weren’t any homemade crackers in the shape of her zodiac sign, but it’s hard to find a mold of a Sagittarius centaur shooting a bow-and-arrow.

Those with wives who are Pisces have it a little easier in that regard, as there are plenty of recipes out there to help you duplicate Kambly’s romantic gesture as Pisces season comes to a close. Better yet, do what Julia Child used to do, and serve the Goldfish alongside an “upside-down martini.” Everyone knows that’s the true path to a woman’s heart.