In Rockport, Maine there is a plaque marking the birthplace of Hanson Gregory. It reads:
“In commemoration. This is the birthplace of Captain Hanson Gregory, who first invented the hole in the doughnut in 1847. Erected by his friends, Nov. 2, 1947.”
Humans have been frying dough and making doughnut-esque cakes for centuries, but what we think of as doughnuts didn’t have holes until the mid-19th century. While possibly apocryphal, holes in fried dough cakes came from the brain of Hanson Gregory when he was 16 years old. One morning, Hanson was eating a fried cake his mom made and asked why the cakes were always soggy in the middle. She didn’t know. Hanson then took an uncooked cake, punched a hole in the middle, and asked her to fry it up. The fried cake with a hole in the middle cooked perfectly because of the increased surface area. Thus, doughnuts were born.*
Hanson Gregory became a sea captain at the young age of 19 and by traveling the world he was able to spread the genius of fried cakes with holes.
Over 100 years after the invention of the doughnut, Dunkin Donuts introduced Munchkins in 1972, otherwise known as “donut holes.” According to Dunkin’, Munchkins were “created as a way to make use of the excess dough cut out of the centers of our donuts and quickly became a fan favorite.” In case you have ever wondered, five Munchkins are the equivalent of one doughnut based on raw weight.
* While we tend to refer to everything we buy at doughnut shops as “doughnuts”, some claim that to be a doughnut the fried dough must have a hole. This concept is nicely summarized in an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “With doughnuts, it’s all about the hole. No hole, no doughnut. That little circle of nothing means everything. Otherwise, it’s a cruller, or a Bismarck, or a beignet, or a churro, or any of those words that mean a fried piece of dough.”