Dollars to Donuts It's National Doughnut Day!

Tina Lernø, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
Van de Kamp's billboard
A Foster and Kleiser billboard in Los Angeles advertising doughnuts sold at Van de Kamp's Bakeries, [ca 1937]. Herman J Schultheis Collection

Dollars to Donuts It's National Doughnut Day! Another National Holiday, another rabbit hole of information for me to jump into. The first Friday in June is officially known as National Donut Day, and here's some history about our favorite morning coffee companion.

The celebration of National Doughnut (or Donut) Day goes all the way back to World War I where 250 Salvation Army volunteers known affectionately as Doughnut Dollies brought thousands of doughnuts to servicemen on the front lines in France. (The term Doughboy does not refer to Doughnuts; another post for another day).

Bakery on Figueroa, view 1
Interior view of a bakery located at 4189 S. Figueroa Street. Two workers stand behind the sales counter filled with cakes, donuts, cookies, danish rolls, and all other kinds of sweet-tasting desserts. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Firstly, we all know what a donut is, but in case you don't or are just hungry, here is Wikipedia's mouth-watering description. You may want to search for the closest donut shop after this folks!

"The two most common types are the ring doughnut and the filled doughnut, which is injected with fruit preserves, cream, custard, or other sweet fillings. Once fried, doughnuts may be glazed with sugar icing, spread with icing or chocolate on top, or topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon, sprinkles, or fruit. Other shapes include rings, balls, flattened spheres, twists, and other forms. Doughnut varieties are also divided into cake (including the old-fashioned) and yeast-risen type doughnuts. Doughnuts are often accompanied by coffee purchased at doughnut shops, convenience stores, petrol/gas stations, cafes, or fast-food restaurants."

Frying kettle, Van de Kamp's
Bruno Heck tends Van de Kamp's frying kettle for cake donuts which are later broken into two pieces, then packaged, [1965]. Herald Examiner Collection

The earliest origins of the modern doughnut are generally traced back to the olykoek (or oily cake). Dutch settlers are said to have brought the recipe with them when they settled in New York. The olykoek did not have a hole in the middle, but the ingredients and preparation were much the same. The term doughnut can be traced back to 1803 cookbooks as well.

Where the hole came from is another tangled bit of information. Some say it happened at sea with a Captain Gregory, and as a cost-saving measure, others think the center of the doughnut was filled with, what else, nuts, to save on ingredients but also to fry them up quickly without a soggy middle. Whatever the case, the hole provided a quicker more even frying which led to a better taste.

Angel Food Donuts shop
Angel Food Donuts shop with giant donut on top of roof. Shop is located on the northeast corner of Western Ave. and Compton Blvd. in Gardena, [1974]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

So you may notice donut is spelled two ways. It is indeed interchangeable. The terms entered the American vernacular around 1809, with Washington Irving's reference to "doughnuts" in his History of New York. The word "nut" was used as a diminutive as in a small bit of dough. The alternate spelling of Donut arrived in 1900 when the writer George Wilbur Peck had a character pronounce: "Pa said he guessed he hadn't got much appetite, and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut." According to another historian the name was shortened to make it more pronounceable by foreigners so that the company selling doughnut-making machines would appeal to a wider audience.

Donut Hole, La Puente
Cars exiting The Donut Hole drive-in restaurant, located on Elliot Avenue at Amar Road in La Puente, [1983]. Herald Examiner Collection

It wasn't until the 1920s that donuts really took off. An enterprising baker named Adolph Levitt created a machine to automate the doughnut-making process and as entertainment for people passing by his bakery. If you have ever stood in front of a bakery window and watched donuts being made, you will know the instant appeal and smell. As crowds in New York City excited the nearby theaters, the smell of frying donuts drew them in as did the little balls of dough going up into the machine. By the 1930s, Levitt was a multi-millionaire, and donuts were, "The food hit of the Century of Progress."

Fun fact: Canada has the largest concentration of doughnut shops in the world, (Japan is number two), and Canadians eat the most doughnuts in the whole world. It seems ice cream is America's number one go-to dessert.

Randy's Donuts, Inglewood
Randy's Donuts, located on Manchester Blvd. gets an approving mention in "Roadside America." [1986]. Herald Examiner Collection

Another fascinating aspect of the history of the donut is the pink boxes they came in which originated in Southern California. Ted Ngoy, a refugee of the Cambodian genocide who came to Los Angeles and completely transformed the doughnut selling market. Check out the fascinating documentary Donut King for the full story.

Dollars to doughnuts is one of several ‘dollars to…‘phrases, like ‘dollars to buttons’ and ‘dollars to cobwebs’, which date from 1884 (in G. W. Peck’s Boss Book) and 1904 (in The Boston Herald) respectively. It is obviously an American phrase and so it is used as donuts rather than its actual notation doughnuts. In earlier days when a dollar was worth more than it is now and a doughnut cost considerably less as compared to it, someone who was reasonably sure that an event would happen might bet upon it and say “I bet dollars to donuts” as it is used in the above examples. —Source:

For more information about the donut or how to fry some up at home, the library, as always, has an amazing collection of cookbooks.

Recommended Reading

Book cover for Donut Nation: A Cross-Country Guide to America's Best Artisan Donut Shops
Donut Nation: A Cross-Country Guide to America's Best Artisan Donut Shops
Brown, Ellen

Book cover for The Hole Story of the Doughnut
The Hole Story of the Doughnut
Miller, Pat

Book cover for Doughnut: A Global History
Doughnut: A Global History
Hunwick, Heather Delancey

Book cover for Donuts: An American Passion
Donuts: An American Passion
Edge, John T.

Book cover for Doughnuts!: 100 Dough-licious Recipes
Doughnuts!: 100 Dough-licious Recipes
Beckerman, Carol

Book cover for Doughnuts: 90 Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home
Doughnuts: 90 Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home
Ferroni, Lara

Book cover for Homemade Doughnuts
Homemade Doughnuts
Grant, Kamal

Book cover for Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker
Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker
Klebeck, Mark

Book cover for Decked-Out Donuts: 125 Over-the-Top Treats That Take the Cake!
Decked-Out Donuts: 125 Over-the-Top Treats That Take the Cake!

Book cover for Easy-to-Make Doughnuts
Easy-to-Make Doughnuts
Kay, Mowie

Book cover for Baked Doughnuts for Everyone
Baked Doughnuts for Everyone
McLaughlin, Ashley

Book cover for 150 Best Donut Recipes: Fried or Baked
150 Best Donut Recipes: Fried or Baked
Geary, George

Book cover for BabyCakes Covers the Classics: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes From Donuts to Snickerdoodles
BabyCakes Covers the Classics: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes From Donuts to Snickerdoodles
McKenna, Erin