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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Louis Wichinsky's Bagel Machine donated to Sullivan County Museum

By Rich Klein - reporter / photographer

By: Rich Klein | Democrat
From the left standing behind the bagel machine are: Kathleen Sullivan from The Hurleyville Sentinel, Celia Wichinsky Mack, daughter of Louis Label Wichinsky, Celia's husband Jim Mack and Myron Gittel of the Sullivan County Museum.
HURLEYVILLE — Louis “Label” Wichinsky, born in 1919, didn't invent the original bagel machine, but his patented 1968 prototype that was built in Sullivan County, revolutionized bagel making for local “mom and pop” bakers around the world.
On Saturday, that machine was officially donated to the Sullivan County Museum by his daughter, Celia Wichinsky Mack.
“No one who ever met him ever forgot him,” she said of her father, one of nine children born to Jake and Claire Wichinsky, and who lived above the family business, the Wichinsky's Bakery, a.k.a. the Hurleyville Bakery.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wichinsky enlisted in Army Air Corps and was assigned to a machine shop in England. “For the duration of the war, he tinkered and built and fabricated anything and everything needed to fly planes, drop bombs and fix wounded soldiers,” according to his daughter.
“It was in England, he always said, that his story truly began,” Mack continued. “Under a program that matched newly arrived American servicemen with British residents, Wichinsky landed in the apartment of two brothers who were London bakers. One of them, Sam Wolinsky, said to the Hurleyville resident right after they broke a Yom Kippur fast: “You Yanks can build anything. How come you haven't yet built a machine to make a bagel?”
That's when Wichinsky started work on his early designs for a bagel machine, first in England and later in Israel, where he was an aircraft mechanic leading up to the Jewish State's War of Independence. But it would be 20 years and countless redesigns before he was awarded the first of his bagel making patents, “The Wichinsky Bagelmatic” in 1968.
“It's simple construction and small size made it both affordable and efficient for use in Mom and Pop bakeries in cities and towns across this country, and ultimately, the world,” said Mack. “His machine revolutionized the bagel making industry, and, ultimately, the eating habits of the entire world.”
According to Barbara Lerner, whose family owns Quickway Metal Fabricators in Monticello, both Label and her father, Marc Lerner, shared the inventor gene. “Through each of our businesses, first Fountain Pools, then Gold Marc Industries and finally Quickway Metal Fabricators, there was always a machine shop and fabricating facility for Label to make components for anything he was working on. As for the bagel machine, we machined some of the pieces and I believe may have also made the bases.”
During the late 1960s and '70s, Wichinsky would haul his machine and its parts to bakeries in Brooklyn, the Bronx and the Lower East Side. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the lifelong tinkerer figured out a way to convert vegetable oil into fuel for his car. That led to a media blitz about the man and his latest inventor activities that surely would rival Doc Brown of “Back to the Future.” (Wichinsky earlier had built his own airplane and some parts came from his parents bakery).
After Wichinsky's death in 2000, the bagel machine was secured and safeguarded by the Lerner family.
As for the speed of the bagel machine, Wichinsky once said:
“If General Custer had one of my machines at Little Big Horn shooting raw bagels, nobody would have ever heard of Sitting Bull. A rifle don't fire that fast.”

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