Humans have been eating noodles for at least 4,000 years. It was in the 20th century, though, that noodles made two big advances.
The first was in their preparation. After World War II, American aid to Japan left the devastated country with more cooking oil and wheat than it was used to. This led Momofuko Ando, up to then an unsuccessful businessman, to a discovery.
His Los Angeles Times obituary explains:
Ando’s entrepreneurial genius was to shuck off centuries of tradition and realize that noodles did not necessarily have to be cooked fresh and served only after being steeped in vats of boiling water. After tinkering for a year in his backyard shed, he discovered that noodles could be dried, packaged and rehydrated in a bowl of boiling water in just three minutes — and served almost anywhere.
Today they are indeed served almost anywhere – both on Earth and beyond.
In the late 1960s the Prince Spaghetti Company hired an advertising company. Their hope was to increase pasta’s appeal beyond traditional Italian-American consumers.
…Anthony and several fellow preadolescents were approached in Boston’s Little Italy by three men looking for Commercial Street. His friends replied rudely; Anthony, angelic and ingenuous, offered directions. The men were smitten.
They turned out to be scouts for an advertising agency seeking a realistic location to film a pasta commercial and credible nonprofessionals to act in it.
The commercial, starring Anthony Martignetti, became a hit. As his New York Times obituary notes, he took his role seriously:
“I always understood that it was larger than me, that I had a responsibility to preserve what that commercial meant to people… I knew that if I got into trouble, little Anthony from the spaghetti commercial would be all over the paper.”
Young Anthony proved to be effective. Today the average American annually eats – both on Wednesdays and the rest of the week – twenty pounds of pasta.