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Mmm... a history of donuts on National Donut Day

Published June 6, 2014 7:44 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The donut: a relief in dark times that evolved into a pop culture icon. On this National Donut Day, among the hole-iest of days, let's all take a moment while we devour our deep-fried delights to learn something new about the American staple.

Where do donuts come from?

The fried treat has an origin story messier than a crumb donut. Depending on whom you ask, the donut originated here, among the prehistoric tribes – or, the Dutch brought an early version of the snack to American shores, according to Smithsonian Magazine's David Taylor. Then again, a New England sailor supposedly takes credit for the modern incarnation, too, (with the hole in the middle), Taylor writes.

As Taylor describes in his 1998 article for the magazine, "it is true that the humble doughnut does have a convoluted past that involves Dutch immigrants, Russian exiles, French bakers, Irving Berlin, Clark Gable and a certain number of Native Americans. And, yes, in its democratic ethos, its optimism, and its assorted origins, it does seem rather quintessentially American."

OK, but when did donuts get so popular in the United States?

The donut broke into the big time during World War I, when volunteers – including those for the Salvation Army – fed and cheered up the tired troops in the French trenches with the center-less sensation, along with a cup of coffee.

The stock market, though, did not enjoy the same success. After its plunge sent the country into The Great Depression, The Salvation Army kept up its donut delivery, this time for the homeless. The humanitarian organization wound up serving as many as 2.5 million donuts a month in New York City alone, according to Vi-An Nguyen of Parade magazine.

It was amid these hard financial times that the Salvation Army founded this celebrated National Donut Day in 1938, originally to raise awareness and money for its deliveries.

Ever the comfort in a dark hour, donuts resumed their role as soldier's snack during World War II.

By the way, why do we associate donuts with police officers?

Nguyen again has an answer, relating stories from a donut history book by Michael Krondl: "police car patrols became common in the 1940s and 50s," and donut shops were one of the few places open during the graveyard shift. "Many donut shops welcomed cops before opening hours (if for no other reason than the fact that having a police cruiser in front of your store at 4 a.m. was good at keeping the crime at bay)," Nguyen writes.

Krondl's book, "The Donut: History, Recipes and Lore from Boston to Berlin," was published Sunday.

A growing success

And of course, by the 1990s, the now ubiquitous donut found a comedic devotee and advocate in Homer Simpson. In a 2010 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Simpsons creator Dan Groening explained that a love of donuts is the only thing Homer and his own father have in common.

Now that you know, go out there and celebrate this Depression-born boon! Krispy Kreme advertises that it's giving away a free donut to customers, while Dunkin' Donuts is offering a free donut with the purchase of any drink.

Whatever you do, do not sell your soul for one:

— Michael McFall

Twitter: @mikeypanda