History of Doughnuts: Exploring Its Evolution (25+ Facts)

Some might say that North American culture would not be the same without the doughnut. What’s better than licking that delicious sugary glaze off your fingers? Without Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’, LaMar’s, Tim Hortons, or your local mom-and-pop shop, life as we know it would be very different. I mean, who cares how many calories are in a doughnut?

The doughnut has been around for quite some time, and its history can be traced right back to the First World War. It became famous at a time when people needed it most. It provided comfort and relief from hunger for those in need while fighting World War I and suffering through the Great Depression. This affordable and satisfying dessert has made its way through the last hundred years and is still available today. 

This fried cake has a fascinating history. While some can’t agree on how to spell the dessert (donut or doughnut?), they are one of the best food inventions so far. So stick around and check many must-know facts about doughnuts.

Table of Content

1. The first shape of the doughnut.

The doughnuts we know today didn’t always look like this. In the past, they were made as a twist of dough, not as rings. In England, it was common to see ball-shaped doughnuts filled with jam after being fried. 

2. Cooking doughnuts involves no human intervention. 

When frying doughnuts, there’s no need to turn them as they will turn themselves over when the underside is cooked. 

3. Hanson Gregory claimed to have invented the doughnuts in 1847.

Elizabeth Gregory, a New England woman during the 19th century, fried some dough to send with her (Hanson Gregory) son on his voyage at sea. Elizabeth fried the dough with nuts, giving the doughnut its name, and her son created the classic ring shape. 

Some say he poked a hole with one of the spokes on the ship’s wheel to hold the doughnut while steering the boat. Others say that he didn’t like the texture of the center and punched a hole in it with the ship’s pepperbox. 

4. National Doughnut Day was established as a fundraiser.

Each year, on the first Monday of June, since 1938, the United States celebrates National Doughnut Day. Doughnut Day began as a fundraiser for Chicago’s Salvation Army. Their goal was to assist people in need during the Great Depression and honor the Salvation Army “Lassies”, who gave doughnuts to soldiers during World War I.

5. Entenmann’s doughnut bakery is one of the largest in the United States.

The Entenmann’s bakery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, produces an insane amount of doughnuts every year. 

6. One of the most gigantic doughnuts ever made.

A jelly-filled doughnut weighing 1.7 tons was the most enormous doughnut ever made. It was 16 feet in diameter with a 16-inch high center. Representatives from Hemstrought’s Bakeries, Donato’s Bakery, and WKLL-FM made the doughnut in Utica, New York, on January 21, 1993.

7. Canada has the most doughnut shops per person.

Canada is North America’s and the world’s biggest doughnut lover. The number of doughnut shops per capita is higher in Canada than anywhere else. Some are Tim Horton’s originals, while others, like the Beavertail, a flat, fried dough topped with anything you like and shaped like a beaver’s tail, have become national icons.

8. Japan is just behind Canada in its love for doughnuts.

In terms of doughnut consumption per capita, Japan is closely behind Canada. Among the varieties, you can find an an-doughnut, fried dough filled with red bean paste. The most popular place to get one is at Mister Donut, serving an-doughnuts since 1983.

9. In 1920, Adolph Levitt invented the first doughnut machine.

Levitt was an enterprising refugee from czarist Russia who sold fried doughnuts from his bakery. Crowds clamoring for tasty rings led him to create a device that could supply them faster. The gadget led to a boom in doughnut sales and popularity as production transitioned to mass production facilities. 

10. Doughnuts were originally called oily cakes.

The Dutch introduced fried dough cakes to New York when it was called New Amsterdam. They called them olykoeks, which translates as ‘oily cakes’ because people fried them in oil.

11. Krispy Kreme was one of the first doughnut chains created.

Krispy Kreme was founded in North Carolina after Vernon Rudolph bought the secret recipe for the donut from a Frenchman in New Orleans. The donut shop was first established in Winston-Salem on July 13, 1937, and has remained a national favorite since.

12. The gold-dusted doughnut.

Krispy Kreme made one of the most expensive doughnuts in the world. An edible diamond-studded donut topped with Dom Pérignon Champagne jam was encrusted with 24-carat gold leaf and dusted with 23-carat gold dust. Boujee much?

13. Get doughnuts for free.

Many chains offer promotions throughout the year, but National Donut Day is the perfect time to get your fix without spending a dime.

14. The most famous type of doughnut is the simplest.

Glazed doughnuts have been voted the most popular donut by Google users. Simple, classic donuts are sure to please a crowd, which is perhaps why it is included in nearly every collection of a dozen different types of doughnuts.

The cronut takes second place among doughnut types in the United States. In 2013, while working in France, Dominique Ansel, pastry chef at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City, created this croissant doughnut combination.

15. Irving was the first writer to describe the doughnut.

It is widely believed that Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was the first to mention these delicious confections as “balls of sweetened dough fried in hog’s fat, called doughnuts, or olykoeks.”

16. Reports of the first doughnut shop date back to the 1600s.

Although the doughnut first appeared in American literature in an 1809 Washington Irving text, there are reports of a doughnut shop near New York’s Wall Street opening in the 1670s. But before World War I, doughnuts don’t seem to have been very popular. 

17. Doughnuts became famous after the First World War.

Salvation Army volunteers made and served millions of doughnuts to American soldiers during the First World War. Salvation Army volunteers Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance came up with the idea to provide doughnuts. These doughnuts were often fried in oil and poured into soldiers’ metal helmets. 

18. In the U.S., there are people who have “Doughnut” or “Donut” as their actual name.

It’s unknown whether “Doughnut” is their birth name or if they changed it for the love of the pastry. 

19. Medicinal doughnuts were coated with NyQuil or Pepto-Bismol.

The Voodoo Doughnut company, based in Portland, Oregon, specializes in wild doughnut flavors. They even marketed Pepto Bismol-coated doughnuts sprinkled with Tums, intended for people who had a lot to drink and needed a snack. However, the FDA eventually forced the doughnut shop to stop selling its medicinal flavors.

20. Spudnuts are doughnuts made of potato starch instead of flour.

Spudnuts Shops was a fast-food chain that served potato doughnuts, originally made with mashed potatoes or potato starch. They were the first fast-food doughnut chain founded by two brothers in the 1940s in Los Angeles.

21. French people call their doughnuts “nun’s farts.”

The French fried dough cakes similar to the ring doughnut in the United States are called Pets de nonne, or nun’s farts in English.

22. The “cops love doughnuts” myth is somewhat true.

When police officers worked the graveyard shift in the 1950s, they would stop at doughnut shops to do paperwork and snack because they were among the few establishments open late. Doughnut shop owners appreciated the police protection, and police officers enjoyed eating late at night at a doughnut shop.

23. This actress ate 20 doughnuts every day to gain weight to get into character.

Renée Zellweger had to gain weight fast before portraying Bridget Jones in 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. So, as part of her diet to meet her weight goal for the shoot, she reportedly consumed Big Macs and chips, potatoes dripping in butter, pizza, milkshakes, and 20 doughnuts every day. So that’s the dream prerequisite for a job, huh?

24. Doughnuts are known as the food of the century of progress.

Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair named doughnuts “Hit Food of the Century of Progress” since automated machinery produced them quickly, they were cheap, and they became a staple for the working class during the Depression.

25. Clark Gable taught moviegoers how to dunk doughnuts with style.

As part of the film ‘It Happened One Night’, Clark Gable outlined the proper etiquette for dunking doughnuts to co-star Ms. Colbert. “Dunking is an art,” he said.

26. An iconic California doughnut shop gained fame in the 1980s.

Randy’s Donuts is one of the most famous Hollywood doughnut shops, featuring a massive 32-foot doughnut sculpture atop a low, flat roof. This store appeared in several movies over the past few decades, including Earth Girls are Easy, Get Shorty, The Golden Child, Crocodile Dundee, and Iron Man 2.  

27. Beloved food during the Great Depression.

Following the 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression dragged on for months and years, and Americans became more and more hungry and desperate. Finally, the price of a doughnut was less than a nickel, making it accessible to the Depression’s victims.

28. Krispy Kreme was created with $25 and borrowed ingredients.

Vernon Rudolph and two friends were left with just $25 between them in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1937. So in July, they borrowed ingredients from a grocery store (potatoes, sugar, and milk) and baked a batch of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that they delivered in their 1936 Pontiac.

Doughnuts have become popular everywhere in the world with such a rich history. They are available in various forms as sweet snacks to be prepared at home or purchased from bakeries, supermarkets, food stands, and franchised vendors.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.