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In 1938, the first-ever National Donut Day was celebrated in Chicago, and the history of The Salvation Army’s Donut Lassies was officially immortalized. In 1917, these women were sent to France to establish field bases near the front lines. In makeshift huts, thousands of soldiers would come to stock up on essential goods and grab a sweet treat baked by the Lassies.

Both the presence of these courageous women and the donuts that tasted of home brought a light of hope and happiness to the battlefield — a much-needed morale boost for languishing soldiers. In fact, the Donut Lassies are also credited with popularizing the donut in the United States after the troops (commonly known as “doughboys”) came back from fighting in Europe. And still today, over a hundred years later, The Salvation Army continues to serve on the front lines through a wide range of social services for the most vulnerable individuals and families living in the United States.


Want to try your hand at making the donuts that started it all?

Below, you’ll find our century-old recipe so you can bake and share these sweet treats with whomever needs them most.

Salvation Army WWI Donut Ingredients

Yield: 60 donuts

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 tablespoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tub lard (this can be substituted with butter or vegetable oil)
  1.  Combine all ingredients (except for oil) to make dough.
  2. Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth, and cut into rings that are less than 1/4 inch thick. (When finding items to cut out donut circles, be creative! Salvation Army Donut Lassies used whatever they could find, from baking powder cans to coffee percolator tubes.)
  3. Drop the rings into the oil, making sure the oil is hot enough to brown the donuts gradually. Turn the donuts slowly several times.
  4. When browned, remove donuts and allow excess oil to drip off.
  5. Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool and enjoy!


The Salvation Army created the first donut day event in Chicago in 1938 as a fundraiser to help those in need during The Great Depression.



Donut Lassies were Salvation Army volunteers who baked and delivered donuts during World War I.



The donut was, and continues to be, a taste of home and a symbol of comfort to people living in the United States.


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