Fried dough cakes have been around seemingly forever.

But an innovation in the state of Maine helped make this treat the icon that it is today: the invention of the doughnut hole.

The great engineering challenge with frying up dough is how to get the middle to cook as well as the rest.

People have tried a lot of shapes to solve the condundrum – squares, diamonds, twists and more – but few have cooked all the way through.

By some accounts, the doughnut may have even gotten its name from the problem!

Some people apparently tried putting nuts inside the dough to stop the center from staying gooey while it cooks.

But most people just suffered through eating a snack that had a crispy outside and drippy interior.

Then along came Hanson Gregory of Rockport, Maine.

Again, there are lots of versions of the story.

Gregory worked at sea, and in some tellings, he used the captain’s wheel of a ship to impale some uncooked dough.

In other versions, angels came to him in a dream with the idea.

But wherever it came from, Gregory’s idea of poking a hole in the center of the cake proved that the best way to cook the middle of a doughnut was to take the middle out altogether.

Later, he had a tinsmith create a doughnut hole cutter, and well, doughnut holes are all over the world now.

It’s kind of odd to call Gregory an inventor for coming up with the doughnut hole.

You might say he created something out of nothing.

And if you visit Rockport, Maine today, you can see the monument built in his honor.

Outside the Nativity Lutheran Church, a plaque reads “This is the birthplace of Captain Hanson Gregory, who first invented the hole in the donut.”

This weekend in Chittenango, New York, east of Syracuse, it’s Oz-stravaganza!

L. Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, and each year the town celebrates its connection to Oz with fireworks, rides, games, a costume contest and – what else – a walk down the Yellow Brick Road.

The Maine Ship Captain Who Invented the Modern Donut (New England Historical Society)


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Closeup of a glazed doughnut. (Photo by 5th Luna via Flickr/Creative Commons