The donut has existed since the beginning of time. The donut, as we know and love, supposedly came to Manhatten under the Dutch name of olykoeks-"oily cakes."
In early colonial times, US. Dutch immigrants discovered fried cake. So, the story goes, a cow kicked a pot full of boiling oil over onto some pastry mix, thus inventing the golden brown delight. Apparently, they didn't share this great discovery with their homeland and the fried cakes became a staple in the harsh conditions that existed in the colony.
Around 1847, Elizibeth Gregory, a New England ship captain's mother, made a deep-fried dough that used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg, cinnimon, and lemon rind. She made the deep fried cakes for son Hansen and his crew so they could store the pastry on long voyages and to help ward off scurvy and colds. Mrs. Gregory put hazel nuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through, and called them donuts.
In the Middle of World War I, millions of homesick American "doughboys" were served up countless donuts by women volunteers, trying to give the soldiers a taste of home. The first donut machine was invented in 1920, in New York City, by a man named Adolph Levitt, a refugee from czarist Russia. Levitt's donut machine was a huge hit causing donuts to spread like wildfire.
By 1934, at the World's Fair in Chicago, donuts were billed as "the hit food of the Century of Progress". Seeing them made by machines "automatically" somehow made them seem all the more futuristic. Donuts became beloved. Legend says that dunking donuts first became a trend when actress Mae Murray accidentally dropped a donut in her coffee one day at Lindy's Deli on Broadway.
In the 1934 film It Happened One Night newspaperman Clark Gable teaches young runaway heiress Claudette Corbet how to "dunk". In 1937 a popular song proclaimed that you can live on coffee and donuts if "you're in love".
During World War II, Red Cross women, known as Doughnut Dollies passed out hot donuts to the hard fighting soldiers. Today, in the United States alone, over 10 billion donuts are made every year.