Remembering Daniel Thompson, Inventor of the Bagel Machine
Daniel Thompson, whose bagel machine revolutionized the making of bagels and made them household items, passed away on September 3 in Rancho Mirage, California at the age of 94. Thompson’s invention of the bagel machine changed the American breakfast. It ushered in the sale of packaged bagels in supermarkets and made bagels a staple of fast-food restaurants.
According to Matthew Goodman, the author of “Jewish Food: The World at Table,” Thompson’s invention allowed bagel makers to produce more than they had ever imagined possible. A traditional bagel baker could produce about 120 bagels per hour. With Thompson’s machine, an unskilled worker could produce 400. He wrote that the machine turned bagels from something that had been smaller, crusty, and flavorful into a food that was larger, pillowy, and flavorless.
Thompson was born in Winnipeg, Canada, on January 16, 1921. His father, Meyer Thompson, was a Jewish bagel baker from Hull, England. Meyer Thompson experimented with several bagel-making machines, but they were not commercially viable. Daniel Thompson perfected his father’s invention in the late 1950s. Thompson and his wife, Ada, established the Thompson Bagel Machine Manufacturing Corporation in 1961.
Not everyone was happy about the introduction of Thompson’s bagel machine. Some traditionalists thought mass-producing bagels robbed them of their history and Jewish flavor. Until the mid-1960s, bagels were only available in cities that had thriving Jewish neighborhoods, such as New York. Bagels made with a bagel machine were softer because some machines (not Thompson’s, according to his family) required looser, more watery dough.
Until the 1960s, all the bagels in New York City were made by members of the International Beigel Bakers Union. The craft was passed down from father to son and was a closely-guarded secret. New York’s Local 338 had about 300 members. They would sometimes go on strike over working conditions.
Lender’s, which had been producing bagels in New Haven since the 1920s, leased the first machine in 1963. Lender’s began to mass-produce bagels, bag them, and sell them frozen in supermarkets. The machine put the workers of Local 338 out of business.