National Doughnut Day: The history behind the pastry

Lynchburg & Central Virginia News

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — National Doughnut Day was established by the Chicago Salvation Army in 1938 as a fundraiser to help the needy during the Great Depression.

According to the Salvation Army, during WWI and WWII, volunteers known as “Donut Lassies” would hand out donuts to the troops near the front lines. The original donuts were fried in small pans on the front lines or cooked inside the metal helmets of American soldiers, who were then commonly known as “doughboys.”

The Donut Lassies would also provide essential goods and cooked food along with those donuts to boost morale in the troops while providing a little hope.

“The Salvation Army, we love to just give hope. One of our big sayings is we build hope, and sometimes hope is just different. Sometimes it’s a meal, sometimes it’s a hand up instead of a hand out, and sometimes it’s just a donut, because there’s some days where days are rough but a donut just makes it sweeter. So, any way we can show hope or provide hope, we want to do that,” said Lt. Mark Craddock with the Lynchburg Salvation Army.

Over 100 years later, the Salvation Army is still carrying on that tradition and providing hope to people in different shapes and forms. In fact, some historians credit the Salvation Army for popularizing the donut.

If you want to take a bite from the past, here’s how to make the Salvation Army WWI Donut.


Yield: Two dozen donuts

  • One large egg
  • Two and a half cups of flour
  • One cup of sugar
  • Two and a half teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/8 tablespoon salt
  • 7/8 cup milk
  • Half a tub of lard (but because it is no longer 1917, we actually recommend using healthier options, like vegetable or coconut oil)


  1. Combine all the ingredients (except for oil) to make the dough.
  2. Thoroughly knead the dough, roll it smooth, and cut it into rings that are less than 1/4 inch thick. (When finding items to cut out donut circles, be creative! Salvation Army Donut Lassies used whatever they could find, from baking powder cans to coffee percolator tubes.)
  3. Drop the rings into the oil, making sure the oil is hot enough to brown the donuts gradually, and turn the donuts slowly several times.
  4. When browned, remove the donuts and allow the excess oil to drip off.
  5. Dust the donuts with powdered sugar, let them cool, and enjoy!

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