There might not be a more quintessential food at the Minnesota State Fair than mini-doughnuts, and for that we can thank entrepreneur Edward M. Anderson.

A man who had an inquisitive mind and loved to tinker in his garage, Anderson invented the Lil' Orbits automatic doughnut machine and perfected the batter that went with it.

"It's kind of those Colonel Sanders secret recipes with 13 ingredients," said Mike Foster, a business consultant for Anderson's Plymouth-based firm. "He was a mechanical genius and an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word, and he put thousands of other entrepreneurs into business."

Anderson died of cancer Thursday at his home in Plymouth. He was 78.

Anderson's inventions also included automatic crepe- and pancake-making machines and accessories, Foster said. He also invented and patented an oil- and-water separator, which is used by many companies to clean up pollutants, said Anderson's son, Charlie, of Brooklyn Park.

Born in New York, Anderson earned a degree in political science from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. He started his career in 1956 as a public relations writer for the American Petroleum Institute in New York. He then went to Philadelphia, where he directed marketing and managed sales staff as CEO of Edwards, Roberts & Edwards.

In 1974 he founded Lil' Orbits in New Hope and began designing and patenting an extensive line of doughnut-makers. With the advent of the Internet, sales of the machines went worldwide, and Anderson was recognized by former President George W. Bush with the "E" award for outstanding export sales. In 2005, he was recognized as the outstanding businessman of the year for Minnesota by the Republican National Congressional Committee and the Business Advisory Council.

Anderson, who was still active in his company until about a week before his death, was "one of those guys who moved the place forward at all costs," said sales manager Brian O'Gara.

In 1998, Anderson, who coworkers say was always optimistic, wrote a book called "Climbing Jacob's Ladder to Wealth and Success: The Making of a Millionaire."

Anderson was an avid snowmobiler, and in his younger years he liked downhill skiing, ski jumping and was a pilot, his son said. He continued to enjoy boating on Medicine Lake and entertaining his neighbors.

"He was very welcoming, would always invite neighbors for dinner and get people together for the Super Bowl," said neighbor Jane Nett. "He was a real friendly, loving man."

In addition to his son, Charlie, he is survived by his wife, Galyna; a daughter, Catherine Boyland of Mound; a brother, Gordon Anderson of New York, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Patricia.

Services will be at noon today at Golden Valley Lutheran Church, 5501 Glenwood Av. N., Golden Valley. Visitation will be one hour before services.