Jim Harmon

2023 is becoming quite a year for the American donut.

Ben Aflack and Jennifer Lopez hyped Dunkin’ in a Super Bowl ad Last month.

Just this past week Krispy Kreme began test-marketing the sale of its fried pastry at a McDonalds hamburger location in Kentucky. Later this month, they will reportedly expand the test to over 150 McDonalds locations in the state.

Humans have been dropping dough in hot oil for thousands of years. So it’s impossible to say with certainty who invented the donut.

In more modern centuries, the Germans, English and Dutch all produced a somewhat similar fried food. The Dutch brought their version of the donut (oliebollen, or oil balls) to New York City when they emigrated from the Netherlands.

Given that lengthy history, it’s a bit surprising that the first donut-making machine wasn’t invented until 1920.

An article on the history of donuts in Smithsonian Magazine, some years ago, credited “Adolph Levitt, an enterprising refugee from czarist Russia, (to be the first to) sell fried doughnuts from his bakery in New York City.”

“Hungry theater crowds pushed him to make a gadget that churned out the tasty rings faster, and he did.”

It was around that time that doughnuts (traditional spelling) or donuts (American version) became a big hit on college campuses like the University of Montana.

Kaimin newspaper October, 1915
Kaimin newspaper October, 1915

Forestry Professor Drake was said to always have “cider and doughnuts” available as refreshments after every Forest club meeting.

The campus newspaper, the Kaimin, reported in 1915 that young women liked donuts as much as young men.

Kaimin newspaper, October 12, 1915
The University of Montana Kaimin newspaper, October 12, 1915

“What is it about the doughnut which appeals to the university students? Doughnuts and cider have acted as a magnet to attract students to the annual Y. M. C. A. Stag roundup. But the girls – you ought to see them get away with the sinkers.”

“Think of it, 563 were ordered for one meal at Craig hall, though there are less than one hundred co-eds eating there.” That’s “more than six apiece. Oh, the waiters had some too, but they only ate the holes.”


Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at fuzzyfossil187@gmail.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.