Mention the name “doughboy” and most people immediately envision that plump, white Pillsbury® doughboy—but the original “Doughboy” wasn’t anything like that.
The expression, “doughboy” was used a century earlier than World War I, when the term to describe American soldiers, who went “over there,” became more widespread.
“Doughboys” may have been used by 18th century sailors and soldiers, referring to fried flour dumplings, a predecessor to doughnuts, a popular “fast food” for the troops. According to researcher Michael Hanlon, the term was used to describe Lord Horatio Nelson’s sailors and even the Duke of Wellington’s soldiers. Hanlon speculates that during the 19th century, American soldiers probably were familiar with the term, but used it in a mocking fashion.
Specifically, the nickname first applied to the U.S. Infantry can be traced to the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. A couple “theories” about the word’s origins include the button and the clay pipe. However, it’s more likely that the soldiers marching through terrain of Northern Mexico stirred up a lot of dust—making them appear to be flour-covered. During the next 70 years following Gen. Scott’s capture of Mexico City, “doughboys,” despite its uncertain origins, was used—sometimes mockingly—as a nickname for the American infantryman. The term began appearing in first-hand accounts from the Civil War, campaigns on the frontier, and in the Philippines.
When the U.S. entered the Great War the name replaced that of the “Yanks” and “Sammie’s” (for Uncle Sam), and the term became generally applied to all branches: aviators, logistical support troops, and even the Marines. It’s said that the Stars and Stripes newspaper incorporated the name into its reports.
One final aspect to the word’s history was its use exclusively by the 4.7 million Americans who served in the Great War. Afterward, the term fell into disuse, but perhaps, speculated Hanlon, it may be because that the term “belonged” to the boys of the First World War.
An authentic “Doughboy” uniform currently is on display at the Lakewood History Museum in the Colonial Center, at 6211 Mt. Tacoma Drive SW, Open Wed-Sat, noon-4 pm. It is on loan from Glen Spieth, owner of Museum Antiques, collector of military memorabilia and current Vice President of the Lakewood Historical Society. The uniform is part of the current display, “Home of the Free Because of the Brave: Lakewood’s Military Neighbors” that can be viewed until May 2015.