The Innovative Machine That Helped Donuts Become A Sensation

Donuts exploded into popularity in the 20th century, but their existence goes back much further than that, at least in some form. According to the Smithsonian, fossils of food that resemble donuts have been uncovered at prehistoric Native American sites. On the other side of the world, per Greatist, the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed little fried cakes dipped in honey, a classical example of dunking donuts. It would seem donut history is as long as a Long John!

Fast forward to relatively more recent times, and donuts began to take on their current shape. Greatist notes that the word "doughnut" originated in England during the late 18th century, as their recipe called for "dough the size of a walnut." However, others, including USC researchers, point to the Dutch's mid-19th century "oil cakes" as the progenitor of modern donuts; these were fried cake balls sometimes stuffed with nuts. Around that same time, a Dutch ship captain began cutting out the raw center of his mom's donuts during their naval emigration to the Americas (via Open Mind). 

In World War I, donuts enjoyed increased fame because Allied soldiers were often given the sweet treat as a sort of pick-me-up. However, even at the start of the 20th century, donuts still took a considerable amount of time and effort to make. It wasn't until the 1930s that innovation transformed donuts into a true sensation.

Donut machine and Ring King

Shortly after World War I ended, Adolph Levitt, a Russian immigrant in the U.S., invented a device that made the process of producing donuts significantly easier and much quicker (via Open Mind). It accomplished this task by transporting rings of dough through a channel of boiling oil and then moving the cooked product onto a ramp before depositing the fried donuts in a basket. That may sound fairly simple by today's standards, but at the time, it was an ingenious idea to automate donuts. 

In 1934, donuts were dubbed the Century of Progress' hit food by Chicago's World Fair, thanks to the donut machine. In 1950, the donut machine was reiterated in the form of the Krispy Automatic Ring King Junior Doughnut machine. The inventor? Krispy Kreme's very own founder, Vernon Rudolph. This new machine did everything: It mixed ingredients and created dough, then molded, deep-fried, cooled, and packaged the resulting delicious treats. The Ring King made 800 donuts an hour and was placed within view of customers to further delight them. Now, donuts were all the rage.

In the last handful of decades, donuts have become ever more ingrained into culinary culture. The main character of America's longest-running primetime animated sitcom adores them (via MovieWeb), and even police are stereotyped as loving donuts. Chains like Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme have come to dominate the main donut scene, and specialty shops are creating homemade donuts and boutique flavors, like apple cider donuts. All that fame is thanks, in part, to a bit of creative machinery!