Donuts in the American Visual Landscape

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.

Sunrise [i.e. Sonrise] Donuts neon sign, Springfield, Illinois. Photo by John Margolies, 2003. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.07723

Sunrise [i.e. Sonrise] Donuts neon sign, Springfield, Illinois. Photo by John Margolies, 2003. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.07723

Sign for the neighborhood Krispy Kreme... in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2017. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.47115

Sign for the neighborhood Krispy Kreme… in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2017. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.47115

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.

Danny's Donuts and other stores at 11th and E Streets, N.W., Washington, D.C., photographed before they were demolished to make way for new buildings . Carol M. Highsmith, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.18249

Danny’s Donuts and other stores at 11th and E Streets, N.W., Washington, D.C., photographed before they were demolished to make way for new buildings . Carol M. Highsmith, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.18249

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.

Mister Donut sign, Route 201, Waterville, Maine . Photo by John Margolies, 1984. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/mrg.01500

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.

Something like home. Doughnuts and coffee at an American Red Cross canteen. St. Pierre des Corps (Tours). Photo from American National Red Cross photograph collection, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.02341

American Red Cross Rest Station, Toul. Miss Mary Vail Andress, directrice. Serves coffee, chocolate, sandwiches and doughnuts to as many as 5000 soldiers a day. By request the prices are the same as charged by the French Red Cross canteens. 20 centimes an article. At American Red Cross outposts no charge whatever is made for articles distributed to troops. Sept. 1918. Photo from American National Red Cross photograph collection. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.18313

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.

Rep. Randolph, champion dunker of Congress. Washington, D.C., May 4. Rep. Jennings Randolph of West Virginia today bent an elbow, crooked a doughnut around a finger, dunked a decided dunk into his coffee, and was declared a champ. Rep. Caroline O’Day, runner-up, presented him with the cup while B.V. Little of the Mayflower Doughnut Corp., sponsor of the contest, looks on. Rep. Randolph will be officially presented with the cup this summer at the World’s Fair in the Doughnut Company’s exhibit. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.26615

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.

Johnson [i.e, Johnston], Keppler. Photo by Bain News Service, 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.19583

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.

Learn More

One Comment

  1. TankerTom
    June 6, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    Dear LOC, Amongst the other photos your two WWI tell another story.. First the great service of the American Red Cross helping our Solider’s abroad as with the single solider in a clean environment with fresh flowers perhaps on a colder day and second photo showing our 5-Army Solider’s next to Miss Mary and 2-French Moroccan soldiers against the Rest House sign…Too Great!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.