“Gefüllte Krapfen, Olykoeks, Donuts”
No one really knows who invented the donut, or even when. Their earliest relative is probably the 15th century dessert gefüllte krapfen, a German fried-dough pastry made without sugar. Others attribute the donut’s ancestry to Dutch settlers immigrating to New York, whose olykoeks were similar to early donuts, but square instead of circular. For hundreds of years, what we know as the humble donut languished in obscurity, served as a bread twist, a cake, or simple balls of fried dough. Its iconic hole reportedly didn’t come about until the 19th century, when the American Hanson Gregory got fed up with biting into the raw middle of donut twists and cakes. Gregory claimed he invented the round, ring-shaped donut when he punched out the undercooked center while on a steamship in 1847.
Whether donuts were originally a German goody, a Dutch delicacy, or an American adaptation of an existing treat, it wasn’t really until the 20th century and the First World War that donuts became an American staple. After the United States joined the war in Europe, the Salvation Army began establishing “huts” near Army training centers to provide recruits with baked treats, writing supplies and stamps, and provide basic home care for the men. The idea proved so popular that the Salvation army ended up sending 250 volunteers to France to set up similar huts over there. However, baking in an active warzone proved more difficult than the volunteers had anticipated. Adapting to the situation, two volunteers had the idea to serve donuts instead of baked goods. The donuts were a smashing success, jumpstarting the popularity of the donut among American servicemen and earning the women serving in the Salvation Army the illustrious title of “Donut Girls,” or the slightly more alliterative title of “Donut Dollies.”
The Salvation Army of Chicago would resurrect the image of the Donut Girls in 1938, when they began a fundraiser to help those affected by the Great Depression. Their fundraiser formed the foundation of our modern National Donut Day, though instead of celebrating the donut, the original holiday celebrated the brave Donut Girls and Salvation Army “Lassies” of World War One. That tradition was reinforced through World War Two, as Salvation Army and Red Cross volunteers once again distributed donuts among American soldiers overseas.
While the modern National Donut Day may have deviated away from memorializing those brave Lassies of the Salvation Army, we at Hurts Donut like to remember where our traditions came from. Nowadays, National Donut Day is held on the first Friday of June, a day to celebrate the donut and the wonderful people who make them. But Hurts Donuts remembers, and today we thank those courageous volunteers who brought a taste of home to men far from it.