National Doughnut Day is an annual event celebrated on the First Friday in June. It was started by the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army in 1938, created to honor the “Lassies,” “Doughnut Girls,” or “Doughnut Dollies” who had served doughnuts to servicemen in Europe during World War I. The aim of the day was also to be a fundraiser for Chicago’s Salvation Army, in order to help the many people who were suffering on account of the Great Depression.

During World War I, the Salvation Army sent about 250 women volunteers who became known as “Doughnut Dollies” to France. They worked in “huts” near the front lines, where baked goods, supplies, and stamps were available, as were services for mending clothes. As it was hard to get most fresh baked goods this close to the front lines, doughnuts were chosen. At times they were even fried in helmets! The Salvation Army reintroduced the giving out of doughnuts during World War II, and members of the Red Cross gave them out as well. Today, the day is still a fundraiser for the Salvation Army in many places, and the organization teams up with various doughnut shops on the day. Some places also give out free doughnuts today.

Doughnuts are deep-fried yeast pastries. The first doughnuts in America, in fact, were little “nuts” of dough, and they were brought to New England by the Pilgrims, who had learned to make them while they were in Holland from 1607-1620. The first mention of doughnuts in print was in Washington Irving’s 1809 book History of New York, which talks about Dutch settlers to New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth century, doughnuts with a punched out center became the norm, and doughnut corers were even being sold by mail order catalog!

By the twentieth century, many variations of doughnuts became popular, including iced, jelly or cream filled, and dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon. They became even more popular after soldiers returned from World War I and wanted the doughnuts that had been served to them overseas. Glazed is the most popular doughnut, and doughnut holes have been around since at least the 1960s. Doughnuts are often sold at doughnut shops, the most popular being Dunkin’.

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