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History of the Bagel

HISTORY of the Bagel (compliments of

Contrary to common legend, the bagel was not created in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the victory of Poland’s King Jan III Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was actually invented much earlier in Kraków, Poland, as a competitor to the bublik, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent. In the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the bajgiel became a staple of the Polish national diet.

The name originated from beugal (old spelling of Bügel, meaning bail/bow or bale) is considered plausible by many, both from the similarities of the word and because traditional handmade bagels are not perfectly circular but rather slightly stirrup-shaped. This, however, may be due to the way the boiled bagels are pressed together on the baking sheet before baking. Also, variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian German to refer to a somewhat similar form of sweet filled pastry (Mohnbeugel (with poppy seeds) and Nussbeugel (with ground nuts)), or in southern German dialects (where beuge refers to a pile, e.g., holzbeuge, or woodpile). According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, ‘bagel’ derives from the transliteration of the Yiddish ‘beygl’, which came from the Middle High German ‘böugel’ or ring, which itself came from ‘bouc’ (ring) in Old High German, similar to the Old English ‘bēag’ ‘(ring), and ‘būgan’ (to bend or bow)

In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, England, bagels, or as locally spelled “beigels” have been sold since the middle of the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on racks.

Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Polish-Jews, with a thriving business developing in New York City that was controlled for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all the bagels by hand. The bagel came into more general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th century, at least partly due to the efforts of bagel baker Harry Lender and Florence Sender, who pioneered automated production and distribution of frozen bagels in the 1960s.