The Prints & Photographs Division’s collections include a fair number of donut-related images that collectively demonstrate the sugary treat’s long-standing presence in American culture. These rich indulgences can be seen in such varied areas of American life as roadside architecture, military history, and even public affairs.
A search of the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog reveals a variety of photos featuring donut establishments across the United States, attesting to public demand for their offerings. Retro design elements are often evident in their signage.
Some of these photographs show donut shops that no longer exist. Danny’s Donuts, perhaps recognizable to long-term Washingtonians, was documented on the eve of its destruction. One wonders if the store experienced a rebirth in a new location.
Other donut shops seem to have traveled abroad. Once a business with dozens of locations in the United States, Mister Donut has only one remaining American store, although visitors to Japan, Thailand and China may be aware that the business now has a presence in those countries.
At some points in time donuts symbolized more than simply a sugary splurge. In fact, the National Donut Day celebrated every first Friday in June was established in recognition of the efforts of women who volunteered with the Salvation Army during World War I, providing soldiers with comforting fried reminders of life back home. These women were famous for their hard work and ingenuity, creating makeshift pots out of soldiers’ helmets, and cutting donut dough into the requisite shape using cans and whatever other materials they had at hand.
The Salvation Army was not the only organization to provide donuts to soldiers during wartime. The next two photographs show soldiers enjoying donuts provided by the American Red Cross during World War I.
This photo shows that the donut has even been known to lurk in the halls of Congress, where Mayflower Doughnut Corp. sponsored a dunking contest in 1939.
This donut truck made an appearance at a 1915 labor strike in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It’s unclear whether the truck served as a concession stand or merely provided a backdrop to a strategic conversation between union leaders.Although donuts are only one example, pictures have a way of reminding us that food has a way of reaching into many aspects of the American experience.
- View more American National Red Cross images related to donuts from the collections.
- Explore more views of signs in the Carol M. Highsmith Collection and in the John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive.
- Read two other donut-forward blog posts: Feast Your Eyes: On Doughnuts Today and Caught Our Eyes: Coffee and Donuts, Anyone? (Donuts appear to be popular with Library staff.)