Early Light: Story behind National Donut Day


Today is National Donut Day.

The next time you dunk your favorite donut, thank The Salvation Army. While The Army may not have invented the first donut – that distinction is lost in history –it can certainly take credit for the popularity of donuts today.

In August, 1917, fighting raged near Montiers, France, as soldiers huddled in camp – hungry, weary and drenched by 36 consecutive days of rain. In a tent

near the front lines, Salvation Army lassies made donuts by filling a refuge pail with oil, made dough with left over flour and other ingredients on hand, and used a wine bottle as a rolling pin. With a baking powder tin for a cutter end a camphor-ice suck tube for making the holes, donuts were fried – seven at a time – in soldier’s steel helmets on an 18-inch stove. (Later, a seven-pound shell fitted with a one-pound shell was used to cut out the donut holes.)

Rain fell continuously, the water-soaked tent finally Collapsed. However, the 100 donuts made that first day were an immediate success.  Soon, as many as 500 soldiers stood in muck outside the resurrected tent waiting for the sweet taste of donuts and, before long, 9,000 donuts were being made around the dock. The tent became the first 24-hour donut shop.

Word spread and – although the basic recipe for making the donuts greatly varied from unit to unit – before long, Salvation Army lassies were making donuts wherever the war was being fought Donuts were taken to the front lines, and it was reported that some pilots even dropped notes asking for donuts for their troops.

Donuts Invade Home Front

Following the war, the returning ‘doughboys’ brought back the taste of donuts with them – the donuts that The Salvation Army lassies had fried and served for them in France.

Although unknown in the states, donuts had become wartime favorites. In France, Salvation Army donut supplies were unable to keep pace with the constant demand. Once back home, returning soldiers keep asking for donuts which, initially, were virtually unknown in the states. One by one, bakeries responded and again, the donut was an instant success – only this time in America.

However, the donut’s identity with The Salvation Army stuck. Donuts appeared everywhere The Army did. Ever since that August day in France 81 years ago, millions of servings of “hot coffee and…’ have been provided free by The Salvation Army to fireman, rescue workers, disaster victims – anyone in need. Salvation Army lassies made donuts the popular wartime food, and the donut came to symbolize the good work of The Salvation Army.

I never dreamed this was how donuts first came to be or why soldiers were called doughboys.  I’m fascinated by tidbits like this, and I’m off to the supermarket to celebrate with a donut.

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