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The History of Doughnuts

In honor of National Doughnut Day, we are taking a look at the history of these sweet treats. Doughnuts have been around in one form or another since prehistoric times – we know this because archaeologists have actually turned up fossilized bits! Doughnuts as we know them arrived in Manhattan (then called New Amsterdam) under the Dutch name olykoeks, meaning "oily cakes." Then, in the mid-19th century, a woman named Elizabeth Gregory made treats for her son, a ship captain, and his crew. She included spices like nutmeg and cinnamon and put nuts in the center where the dough might not cook through, calling them “doughnuts.” Her son, Captain Gregory, claimed credit for being the first person to put the hole in the center of a doughnut. However, doughnuts didn’t truly come into their own until World War I, when millions of homesick American doughboys (a name given to foot soldiers during the Civil War) were served doughnuts in the trenches of France by women volunteers who wanted to give soldiers a taste of home. When they did finally return home, the soldiers brought with them a strong taste for doughnuts. And indeed, doughnuts were quite popular! In fact, the first doughnut machine was created way back in 1920 by Adolph Levitt, a Russian refugee living in New York City. Doughnuts were even featured in the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. During the Great Depression, doughnuts gained further popularity since they cost less than a nickel, which made them an affordable treat for impoverished Americans. During World War II, Red Cross women, later known as “Doughnut Dollies,” doled out doughnuts to soldiers once again. After the war, doughnuts continued to be extremely popular amongst Americans. Dunkin’ Donuts started up in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950 and Krispy Kreme began even earlier, in the late 1930s. These institutions are still going strong today – as is the doughnut itself, which is just as popular as ever!

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