A curious photograph has been floating around online for years, sparking rumors and questions among doughnut enthusiasts and the general public alike. One persistent rumor is that the man featured in the image is U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. That is not the case.
The image shows a bespectacled man holding up a sign that says, "Size of the donut hole down through the years," with illustrations of doughnuts with allegedly shrinking holes between 1927 and 1948. Here's a Reddit post from early May 2022 about the image:
The picture raises two branches of questions: Who is the man in the photograph, and what are the circumstances? And what about the claim in the sign he's holding? Is it a real representation of changing doughnut hole sizes through the years? We'll break it all down below.
What's the Story with This Photo?
The photograph has been an internet curiosity for years. As we noted above, some have labored under the impression (or at the very least, joked wryly) that the man in the photograph went on to become a powerful Republican senator. "Mitch McConnell discusses the dangers of inflation, 1978," the caption of one meme containing the image read.
For years, the printed photograph, specifically silver gelatin on paper, has been housed by the Smithsonian, filed under the Sally L. Steinberg Collection of Doughnut Ephemera. Neither the name of the man in the picture, nor the photographer who took it, are listed by the collection.
The mysterious circumstances may have led some to speculate that McConnell got cheeky with a talk about the economy and used doughnut hole sizes to drive home a point.
But after doing some research, we can confirm the man in the image isn't McConnell, and the photo wasn't taken in 1978.
Our search of periodical archives revealed that the image was published by Newsweek magazine on March 17, 1947. The caption on the photograph reveals that the man pictured is Edward Falasca, who gained a bit of notoriety in the 1940s for his unique position — Falasca was perhaps the only professional doughnut hole inspector on record.
We found two other instances in which Falasca was quoted by news outlets.
Falasca was featured in the March 9, 1947, edition of the Indiana Star Press newspaper in an article headlined, "Culinary and Hat Reform." In that story, Falasca talked about the need to shrink the size of the doughnut hole in order to give pastry aficionados a better grip on their sweet treats.
He also spoke in rather lofty terms about what he apparently considered the art of eating a doughnut.
"Flexible fingers are as necessary for doughnut dunking as for playing the piano," Falasca is quoted as stating. "As a matter of fact, harp playing and balalaika playing are the best ways to practice for dunking."
Falasca was again featured in an article in The Santa Clara newspaper in December 1949. The story described Falasca as the "only" doughnut hole inspector who "operates like a confidential agent," going to various eateries and taking away doughnuts, which he would then measure in the privacy of a hotel room, sometimes using a ruler, sometimes busting out a caliper, depending on the job.
According to The Santa Clara article, Falasca was tasked with enforcing alleged consumer expectations for doughnut hole sizes: "In New England, for example, the holes are one and one-eighth inches in diameter. New Englanders hate a three-eighth inch hole."
That said, we still know very few details of Falasca's life and work -- so few, in fact, that we're a bit skeptical of past reporting on the man and his unusual job. The Santa Clara reported that he worked "for a corporation that manufactures machines which produce 40 percent of the doughnuts sold in this country."
But newspaper didn't name the corporation, nor did it reveal where Falasca lived, or what educational and professional background a man who worked as the nation's only doughnut hole inspector had that would lead him to such an occupation. We will update this story if we locate more information about him, and invite our readers who might have such knowledge to send us tips.
Does the Sign Show Real Doughnut Hole Sizes Over Time?
This question is a bit harder to answer. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the first doughnuts, in their modern form, were made in the mid-19th century by a New England mother who was making a rather sensible pastry for her ship's captain son:
Fast-forward to the mid-19th century and Elizabeth Gregory, a New England ship captain's mother who made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind. Some say she made it so son Hanson and his crew could store a pastry on long voyages, one that might help ward off scurvy and colds. In any case, Mrs. Gregory put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through, and in a literal-minded way called them doughnuts.
As Snopes reported in June 2021, Capt. Hanson Crockett Gregory took credit for putting the first hole in the center of the doughnut, although why he did that is up for debate. One legend is that he impaled a doughnut on the handles of the ship's wheel so he could have two hands free when a storm hit.
Another (more likely) explanation was given to the Washington Post in an interview with Gregory when he was 85. He told the paper he cut the center of his mother's pastry out so it could more easily get an even fry and make it easier to digest.
Either way, a historical photo of Gregory holding undoubtedly one of the first doughnuts with a hole in the middle shows the sea captain holding a pastry with a rather large hole:
By the 1920s, doughnuts found enough popular demand that a Russian refugee named Adolph Levitt invented the first machine to mass produce the pastries in New York City. Did the increased popularity and automated production of doughnuts mean there were industry standards dictating the size of their holes?
In a June 2018 piece about the photograph and the message in the sign Falasca is holding, Vox pointed to a 1918 poster showcasing a so-called doughnut girl, Salvation Army volunteer women who distributed the pastries to troops during World War I. In the poster, an American G.I. is holding a doughnut with a massive hole in the middle. A black-and-white photo featured by Smithsonian Magazine showing a real doughnut girl serving up pastries, however, shows doughnuts with much smaller holes.
We reached out to Krispy Kreme, which since its founding in 1937 has been selling doughnuts on a massive scale for decades, asking whether there is any truth to the claim that doughnut hole sizes have evolved through time. We haven't yet received a response, but will update this story when and if we do.
Edwards, Phil. “Have Donut Holes Gotten Smaller? This Compelling Vintage Chart Says Yes.” Vox, 20 Sept. 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/9/20/9353957/donut-hole-size-chart.
Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The Women Who Fried Donuts and Dodged Bombs on the Front Lines of WWI.” Smithsonian Magazine, 12 April 2017, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/donut-girls-wwi-helped-fill-soldiers-bellies-and-get-women-vote-180962864/.
Taylor, David A. “The History of the Doughnut.” Smithsonian Magazine, March 1998, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-history-of-the-doughnut-150405177/.
Evon, Dan. “The Sea Captain That (Probably) Invented Doughnuts.” Snopes.com, 4 June 2021, https://www.snopes.com/articles/346073/sea-captain-invented-doughnuts/.