It once took time and tradition to make a bagel. A baker had to roll the dough, coil it into circles, boil it, and pop the product into an oven until the bagels were glossy and brown. And not just any Average Joe could make the chewy treat. Recipes were passed down through Jewish families, and you had to be a member of the International Beigel Bakers Union to sell them to the masses.
For these reasons, you weren’t likely to see bagels unless you lived in a town with a sizeable Jewish population. However, a man named Daniel Thompson changed all that with a single invention: the bagel machine.
The New York Times recently memorialized Thompson, who died earlier this month at the age of 94. Thompson was a math teacher, an inventor, and the son of a bagel baker. In 1953, he crafted a literally game-changing invention: the folding Ping-Pong table with wheels. However, he’s most commonly remembered for revolutionizing the mid-20th century American diet with the bagel-making machine he created in the late 1950s.
The machine was originally conceived by Thompson's father, who spent years tinkering with various unsuccessful models, reports the Los Angeles Times. However, it was Thompson who perfected the final product. The machine's main purpose was simple: it rolled and formed the bagel dough. However, the speed is what mattered: by some reports, the largest bagel-making machine could churn out 5,000 bagels in an hour, whereas a single baker could only produce a fraction of that number.
Soon after the machine’s invention, Thompson and his wife, Ada, founded the Thompson Bagel Machine Manufacturing Corporation. They began leasing out Thompson Bagel Machines to bagel companies such as Lender's Bagels—the famous bagel bakery in New Haven, Connecticut that sold the nation's first frozen bagels. Before you could say “Would you like a schmear with that,” pre-made and packaged bagels were gracing the shelves of food markets across the country.
While Thompson democratized—and some would say elevated—the humble bagel into a snack-time staple, some purists were bitter that mass manufacturing transformed the crusty, flavor-packed morsel into a softer, more bland, more American product. The bagel was no longer a sign of Jewish identity—it now belonged to the nation.
So next time you bite into a bagel, remember Thompson—and the fact that 60 years ago, the tasty treat was far harder to find.
[h/t New York Times]