The Doughnut

Hanson Gregory was born in Maine in 1832. As a teenager he became a galley boy on sailing ships. On June 22, 1847 he invented a product that is enjoyed by virtually everyone. But few people have ever heard of him. He never filed for a patent. In fact, few people would believe a hole was worthy of a patent. But Hanson was an innovator for his hole.

At the time, dough was deep-fried in lard and became part of the diet of sailors. The problem was that the center of the blob of dough was only partially cooked, and its greasy taste was awful.

Hanson, only 15 years old at the time, used a lid off of a can to press into the center of the dough before it was deep fried. The hole in the center of the dough led to the dough being fried throughout. His shipmates loved it.

His mother took Hanson’s invention and began selling what were then called holey cakes. She added spices and nuts to the dough to make them tastier. Thus the name changed to doughnuts.

Doughnuts remained a local food until World War I. Women volunteers brought doughnuts to soldiers on the front lines. When soldiers returned home, they had acquired a taste for doughnuts and the popularity of doughnuts spread across America.

During the Great Depression, doughnuts were one of the most affordable (and filling) food products that Americans could afford.

Over time, the doughnut was produced in different flavors, textures, toppings, and sizes. Even the doughnut holes are now in demand. In a country deeply divided about virtually everything, it’s refreshing to know that we agree on one thing. Ninety-six percent of Americans say they enjoy eating doughnuts. There is even a doughnut day: the first Friday of June.

It’s remarkable how a simple idea can become an enduring aspect of society. Hanson Gregory just put a hole in dough. Anyone could have done that, but they didn’t. Why might that be?

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“The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” – Oscar Wilde

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