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The Forgotten History of New York’s Bagel Famines

Natasha Frost haswritten a really great piece on the history of bagels in New York:

The men of Bagel Bakers Local 338 were not to be trifled with. Founded in the 1930s, all 300-odd initial members were Yiddish speakers who descended from these hardy early bakers. Joining required a family connection—though this wasn’t sufficient on its own. Only after three to six months of apprenticeship, once a “bench man” had attained a minimum rolling speed of 832 bagels an hour, could members’ sons and nephews be grudgingly brought into the fold and given labor cards.

But Local 338 was different. Bagels were acquiring a special cachet among Jewish Americans, and bakers grew wise to the value of their special skills. Within eight years of formation, the union had contracts with 36 of the largest bakeries in the city and New Jersey. They had a ferocious reputation—non-union bagel makers were few and far between, and the holdouts experienced threats and day-and-night picketing until they toed the line.

I had no idea just how political bagel making was, nor how significantly the union was brought to its knees following the creation of Thompson’s ‘bagel machine’ in the 1950s. If you love your morning bagels — and spend the time to hunt down places that still make them by hand — you’ll love the article that Frost has put together.