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Doughnuts in the 1920s and beyond
Following World War I, Soldiers were returning home and were still yearning for the delightful pastries they had been privy too during the war. This affection for the fluffy pastry was quickly realized and seized upon by some smart entrepreneurs.
Doughnut marketing was the first to understand the affinity for the doughnut. Some of the first doughnut advertisements were seen in 1919. These advertisements would make mention of this relationship between the “doughboy” or soldier and how the doughnut made them happy during the war. Other advertisements would play on how to make the perfect doughnut (full page advertisement at that), and how some make “doughnut failures”.
Besides advertisements, returning soldiers wanted the doughnut readily available. In 1920, Russian-born Adolph Levitt created the first doughnut machine in New York City. Being impressed by the troops’ fondness for the doughnut, Levitt wanted to ramp up production of doughnuts at his Harlem Bakery. As he did, he quickly found that his dislike of frying was beginning to hamper his desire to boost production. This dislike led him to design and market the first doughnut machine. He called the machine the Wonderful Almost Human Automatic Doughnut Machine. The machine would form and plop perfectly shaped rings of dough into a vat of oil, turn them at a time interval, then pushed them out when done. This machine ultimately led Levitt to create the Doughnut Corporation of America, where he could flood the market with his machine. Later additions to the machine would allow the machine to send the doughnuts down a belt to be coated in glaze, sugar or other types of coverings.
Levitt’s invention and the troops return also led to the establishment of doughnut shops (like his Mayflower shop). Now, these shops were local and not very widespread in the early 1920s, but became more prominent in the years following World War II. However, the first shops were popping up, due to the demand and popularity of the doughnut following World War I.
The Salvation Army continued to also use the popularity of the doughnut for benefit as well. During times of crisis, the Salvation Army would establish money drives where they would sell doughnuts to help pay for disasters. The Salvation Army would also hold doughnut drives of all sorts to help raise money for their organization itself. During the early 1920s, the Salvation Army would organize “doughnut days,” where volunteers sold doughnuts on street corners to raise fund for their charity. But when the Depression took hold in the late 1920s, the Salvation Army would hand doughnuts and coffee out to needy Americans. Also, when immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, they were greeted by Salvation Army with a blanket and a doughnut. The doughnut was, quite literally, their first taste of America.
The idea for Donut Day began on the battlefields of France during World War I when Salvation Army workers served coffee and donuts to soldiers in the trenches. Rations were poor so the donut idea was conceived as a means of bringing the soldiers cheer. Donuts were not the reason Salvation Army workers were in the fighting zones of France. Those men and women were there primarily to give spiritual aid and comfort to the American soldier and his allies. They were there to be a link with home and family. It was also established to celebrate the Salvation Army’s help raising needed funds during the Great Depression. Officially commemorated in the city of Chicago in June 1938, by the local Salvation Army post there, became a holiday to be celebrated by all Salvation Army posts on the first Friday of June. Subsequently, National Doughnut Day became a national holiday in America as well.
Also, during this point in history, doughnuts were a popular treat for people who attended the theater or a night on the town. Within ten years of Levitt’s machine and the Salvation Army’s help, the modern doughnut had taken off, earning it the designation of “the food hit of the Century of Progress” at the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago. This ultimately led to the Salvation Army celebrating the doughnut with their own holiday as well.
Oddly enough, the history of doughnuts is intimately tied to war. As World War II began, these American treats were once again distributed to soldiers, this time from female morale boosters that were nicknamed “Donut Dollies.” (A similar practice would later occur during the Vietnam War.) It was during the 1940s and 1950s that the large doughnut franchises like Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme were born, introducing the world to mass-produced doughnuts.