The doughnut has existed since the beginning of time. So long that archaeologists continue to unearth fossilized bits of what look like doughnuts in the middens of prehistoric Native American settlements.
The doughnut, as we know and love, supposedly came to Manhatten (then still New Amsterdam) under the Dutch name of olykoeks -- "oily cakes." In early colonial times, US. Dutch immigrants discovered fried cake. So, the story goes, a cow kicked a pot full of boiling oil over onto some pastry mix, thus inventing the golden brown delight. Apparently, they didn't share this great discovery with their homeland and the fried cakes became a staple in the harsh conditions that existed in the colony.
Around 1847, Elizibeth Gregory, a New England ship captain's mother, made a deep-fried dough that used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon rind. She made the deep fried cakes for her son Hansen and his crew so they could store the pastry on long voyages...and to help ward off scurvy and colds. Mrs. Gregory put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through, and called them doughnuts.
Hansen always took credit for the hole in the doughnut. Some doughnut historians think that Hansen was a bit of a cheapskate and was just trying to save on food costs. Others say that he gave the doughnut its first hole when, in the middle of a terrible storm and in order to get both hands on the ship's wheel, he crammed one of his mother's fried sensations onto one of the wooded spokes of the wheel. Yet another tale claims that he decided, after a visit from an angel, that the doughy center of the fried cakes had to go.
Hanson presented "his" creation to the people who apparently sang and danced for days in praise of the best fried cake they had ever tasted. Is the doughnut heavenly food? 17th century America thought so, but unfortunately Hanson was eventually burned at the stake for being a witch in the mid-19th century. Today, the town of Clam Cove, Maine has a plaque in honor of Captain Hanson Gregory, the man who invented the hole in the doughnut.
In the middle of World War I, millions of homesick American "doughboys" were served up countless doughnuts by women volunteers, trying to give the soldiers a taste of home.
The first doughnut machine was invented in 1920 in New York City by a man named Adolph Levitt, a refugee from czarist Russia. Levitt's doughnut machine was a huge hit causing doughnuts to spread like wildfire.
By 1934, at the World's Fair in Chicago, doughnuts were billed as "the hit food of the Century of Progress." Seeing them made by machines "automatically" somehow made them seem all the more futuristic.
Doughnuts became beloved. Legend says that dunking donuts first became a trend when actress Mae Murray accidentally dropped a donut in her coffee one day at Lindy's Deli on Broadway. In the 1934 film It Happened One Night newspaperman Clark Gable teaches young runaway heiress Claudette Corbet how to "dunk". In 1937 a popular song proclaimed that you can live on coffee and doughnuts if "you're in love".
During World War II, Red Cross women, known as Doughnut Dollies passed out hot doughnuts to the hard fighting soldiers.
Today, in the United States alone, over 10 billion doughnuts are made every year!