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All Hail the Hole-some Treat

Doughnuts are as quintessential to the American way as apple pie. Who hasn’t happily licked glaze off his or her fingers, or made a mess with powdered sugar? If there were never to be a Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, LaMar’s or neighborhood mom-and-pop bakery, life as we know it would be a less cheery place … these are calories many of us don’t mind.

Oh, boy! That's the girl! The Salvation Army lassie--keep her on the job. 1918 Potomac Electric Power Co. commercial kitchens, restaurants and lighting. 1920-1950

So it should come as no surprise that a holiday has been set aside to celebrate these fried confections. National Doughnut Day is the first Friday in June and actually honors the Salvation Army "Lassies" of World War I.

The original Salvation Army doughnut was first served by the nonprofit organization in 1917. During WWI, the lassies were sent to the front lines of Europe, where they made home-cooked foods and provided a morale boost to the troops. Two Salvation Army volunteers—Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance—came up with the idea of providing doughnuts. Sheldon wrote of one busy day: "Today I made 22 pies, 300 doughnuts, 700 cups of coffee." Often, the doughnuts were cooked in oil poured into a soldier’s metal helmet.

National Doughnut Day started in 1938 as a fundraiser for the Chicago Salvation Army. Its goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression and to honor the Salvation Army Lassies of World War I, who were the only women outside of military personnel allowed to visit the front lines.

In the U.S. alone, more than 10 billion doughnuts are made every year. The largest doughnut ever made was an American-style jelly doughnut weighing 1.7 tons that was 16 feet in diameter and 16 inches high in the center. Adolph Levitt invented the first doughnut machine in 1920.

The Library’s American Memory collections are full of interesting and obscure items on the breakfast treat. A 1918 Cleveland Advocate newspaper article in The African-American Experience in Ohio presentation states that a “search through the American expeditionary force fails to disclose any man who sees nothing to the doughnut but the hole.” “Don’t forget the Salvation Army, always remember my doughnut girl,” sings the chorus of 1919 song sheet that can be found in the Historical American Sheet Music presentation.

An excerpt from Horatio Nelson Taft’s diary, written Feb. 21, 1862, alludes to the fact that his wife is frying doughnuts in the kitchen at the time of the writing.

The Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog also has historical images featuring donuts. Simply searching for the term there and in American Memory should satisfy your scholarly sweet tooth.

A. Oh, boy! That's the girl! The Salvation Army lassie--keep her on the job. 1918. Prints and Photographs Division. SUMMARY: Poster showing a young woman in uniform carrying a tray of doughnuts, and a soldier with a doughnut gesturing toward her approvingly. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-10318 (color film copy transparency); Call No.: POS - US .P82, no. 1 (C size) [P&P]

B. Potomac Electric Power Co. commercial kitchens, restaurants and lighting. 1920-1950. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-H814-T01-2451-037 (b&w film dup. neg.); Call No.: LC-H814- 2451-037 <P&P>[P&P]