Event—Scholarly Seminars

Jacob Remes, NYU

The Wise Men of New Haven: An Urban and Labor History of American Bagels, Jacob Remes

How did bagels become a common American breakfast food, enjoyed not only by Eastern European Jews but by non-Jews, too? How did bagels escape Jewish urban neighborhoods and enter the suburbs? The Americanization and suburbanization of bagels is a story of automation, of a shift from craft unionism to industrial unionism, and of urban renewal and the destruction of urban immigrant neighborhoods. Lender’s Bagel Bakery, a family-owned New Haven, Connecticut-based company, pioneered the automated, mass production of frozen bagels and their marketing in the 1960s. But while the engineering and marketing brilliance of the Lender family has long been recognized, historians have not placed the story in its full contexts. First is the urban history of New Haven, where 20% of the population was displaced by urban renewal, and which bulldozed its old immigrant Jewish neighborhood and replaced it with a highway. Second, who remade the bagel—who kneaded, boiled, baked—is centrally important. Bagels went from items made by hand by skilled, Yiddish-speaking workers organized in a powerful craft union to ones made by machine by a multi-ethnic, industrial workforce. The changes in bagel production changed the nature of bagels themselves, and where and by whom they were eaten.

Respondents: Colleen Doody, De Paul University & Joseph Walzer, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee