Home / Maine / Flashback Photo: The Story of the Maine Ship Captain Who Invented the Modern Donut

Flashback Photo: The Story of the Maine Ship Captain Who Invented the Modern Donut

14-year-old waitress at the Exchange Luncheon in South Boston. Photo, by Lewis Wickes Hine, courtesy Library of Congress.

14-year-old waitress at the Exchange Luncheon in South Boston. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine, courtesy Library of Congress.

Seventy years before this Jan. 31, 1917 photo of a young waitress serving donuts and fruit was taken in a South Boston luncheonette, a Maine ship captain invented the donut as we know it today – with a hole.

On the day this photo was taken, Capt. Hansen Gregory was living in the next town and telling his cronies how he'd gotten the great inspiration to cut a hole in a donut.

He was an 85-year-old resident of the Sailor’s Snug Harbor in Quincy, Mass. His fame as the inventor of the modern donut had spread, and the Washington Post interviewed him in a story published March 26, 1916.

Capt. Gregory told the reporter he discovered the donut hole when he was a 16-year-old crewman on a lime-trading schooner in 1847:

Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted. I don't think we called them doughnuts then--they was just 'fried cakes' and 'twisters.' "Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion.

He asked himself if a space inside the dough would solve the difficulty – and then he got the great inspiration:

I took the cover off the ship's tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!

He returned to Camden, Maine, where he taught his mother the trick. She sent several plates to Rockland, Maine, where they were a smashing success. Donuts were never the same afterward.

A plaque in the town of Rockport, Maine, marks Captain Gregory's birthplace, now the parsonage of the Nativity Lutheran Church.

Capt. Hanson Gregory died in 1921 and is buried in the Snug Harbor Cemetery.

The photograph was taken by Lewis Wickes Hine, the social reformer whose photos of very young workers influenced the passage of child labor laws. His caption read, "Exchange Luncheon. Delia Kane, 14 years old. 99 C Street, South Boston. A young waitress."

12 comments

  1. Molly Landrigan

    There used to be a donut maker that used this little saying….”Wherever you go through life, Brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not on the hole.”

  2. Kate Graziano Cherry

    Molly how great to hear that again

  3. Kate Graziano Cherry

    Molly how great to hear that again

  4. David DeZan

    Arrrrgh, I stepped on them with my peg leg…

  5. I am related to Hanson Gregory. My great grandfather, Charles E. Gregory, knew him. It’s interesting, because that’s not the hole in the doughnut story that’s been passed down in my family. According to my great grandfather, in Hanson’s later years he liked to joke and embellish the circumstances of inventing doughnut hole. The story I’ve been told is that Hanson was a teenager in his mother’s kitchen, watching her fry doughnuts. He didn’t like how soggy they were in the middle, so he cut that part out. She brought them to to the neighbors and the rest is history! When the original Gregory homestead was torn down, my grandfather Charles L. Gregory rescued the plaque from the wreckage and stored it in his barn in Rockport for many years. He and his cousin Fred Crockett had the plaque reinstalled on the grounds of the Lutheran Church.

    • Leslie Landrigan

      How interesting! Thank you for sharing. It does seem Hanson Gregory’s mother deserves some credit as well, don’t you think?

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