The Sorta Secret History of National Donut Day

A partially-eaten donut.
A partially-eaten donut.John Brecher / NBC News

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By Ben Popken

National Donut Day is upon us and for most people that means one thing: free donuts!

Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme and Entenmann's are all giving away donuts today either in store or online. But the day actually wasn't started by donut companies. It was the Salvation Army.

(Cue donut and coffee spit-take)

That's right, the sorta secret history of National Donut Day is that during World War I, Salvation Army "donut dollies" served up these fried delights to U.S. soldiers on the front lines. The delicacies were made in "huts" that provided mail services and stamps and clothes-mending. Baked goods, and a little mothering, were hard to get on the front -- so the fresh, hot, doughy rings were a hit.

Then in 1938 the Chicago Salvation Army started National Donut Day as a fundraiser to commemorate the "donut lassies," as they were also called, and the trend spread.

Here are a few more National Donut Day fun facts:

  • The donut's hole wasn't invented until the early 19th century.
  • The record for the largest box of donuts is 666 lbs, 3,880 donuts, by Voodoo Donuts of Portland, Oregon.
  • Providence, Rhode Island, is the city with the most donut shops per capita, at 25.3 per 100,000 people. But as a country, Canada has the most.
  • Billions of donuts are made every year. Dunkin' Donuts alone accounts for 2.8 billion; Entenmann's, 780 million.
  • In geometry, the shape of a donut is known as a "torus" and is created by rotating one circle around another.