We can tell you a little about the doughnut-making place in Broadway, the old Lucky Strike show window, you know. It isn’t exciting enough to go there especially to see, but it’s cleaner than a steam shovel in an excavation and provides the same kind of entertainment. Doughnuts float dreamily through a grease canal in a glass-enclosed machine, walk dreamily up a moving ramp, and tumble dreamily into an outgoing basket. Twelve hundred doughnuts an hour are turned out. The first time we stopped there the rail outside the window was heavy with people looking. A man whose straw hat moved when he chewed and a woman in a red dress were still there looking when we came back that way after more than half an hour.
The New Yorker, July 18, 1931, p. 11
There’s a lot more to the doughnut than dough these days. We asked Mr, Sugerman (of the Doughnut Corporation of America) for a statement… he said that he was standing pat on the one he had made at the opening of the first Mayflower shop: “We have taken the doughnut out of the mire of prejudice that surrounded the heavy, grease soaked product of the old open kettle, and made it into a light, puffy machine product.”… the doughnut’s routine is the same: floating in a canal of grease, riding up a moving ramp, then being dipped variously by feminine hands and eaten, two for fifteen cents, with coffee… The doughnut interests have been waging a fight against doughnut jokes, which they consider prejudicial. Their opinion of dunking is favorable; they’ve issued leaflets to establish that it’s good taste. People still stand by the thousand outside the shops watching the machines work, hour after hour, which is reassuring. The New Yorker, Dec. 17, 1938, p. 14
Adolph Levitt, was America’s original “doughnut king.” He was the developer of the automatic doughnut making machine and founder of the modern American doughnut industry. In 1920 he founded the Doughnut Machine Company to make and sell the machine across the country and to sell doughnuts under the name “Mayflower”. Soon the company began preparing and selling standardized mixes for the machine, and began to acquire bakeries. In 1931, the company opened the first Mayflower doughnut shop in New York City… – Sally L. Steinberg Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Archives Center.
“Doughnuts are deep-fried cakes with a long European history and roots in still earlier Middle Eastern cuisine. They were introduced to America by the Dutch in New Newtherland as oliekoecken (oil cakes or fried cakes)… They were eaten during the Dutch Christmas season… and for special occasions throughout the year. Once in the New World, the Dutch replaced their frying oil with the preferred lard (far more available here), as it produced a tender and greaseless crust. The other ethnic groups brought their own doughnut variations. The Pennsylvania Dutch and the Moravians who settled in North Carolina made fastnachts on Shrove Tuesday, and the French established beignets in New Orleans. Ultimately, the English American cooks adopted them as well. By 1845 doughnuts appeared in American Cookbooks as staples, and the weekly Saturday baking (breads, cakes, and pies) included doughnut frying. In this same antebellum period, two changes in technology contributed to a basic alteration of the doughnut. Chemical leavening (notably baking powder) was substituted for yeast, producing a more cakelike and less breadlike product. In the same era inexpensive tin doughnut cutters with holes were manufactured commercially and sold widely…” Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 1 (p.408) foodtimeline.org
The Mayflower Doughnut shop (“Pep up with good doughnuts”) was founded in 1931 by Adolph Levitt. Born in Bulgaria in 1883, he moved to Milwaukee in 1890. After moving to New York City in 1916 Mr. Levitt created a chain of bakeries. “After several years of research, he developed and perfected an automatic doughnut machine. From this invention he built the Doughnut Corporation. Mr. Levitt, who was known as the Doughnut King of America also organized the Mayflower Doughnut Corporation, which operates a coast-to-coast chain of Mayflower coffee shops.” New York Times, October 30, 1953, p. 23.
In the ’30s and ’40s there were two Mayflowers, across the street from each other, 1531 Broadway (CI rcle 6-5989) and 1540 Broadway (LO ngacre 5-1297), at 54th and Broadway. The nearby intersection was renamed “Doughnut Corner” for a time. The title of this blog post is from an Illustrated Doughnut poem and is seen in a few of Munkácsi’s photos. While hungrily reading several recent best-of-New York lists, it’s hard not to think: in 2018, we are living in the golden age of doughnuts…
(To complete the circle.) This is premier photo in the Pink project: “People dressed in pink merge with their visually exaggerated, sugar-sweet treats in an old-school New York diner.”