My father, Meyer (Mickey) Thompson, was born
January 1, 1892 in Hull, England. Mickey had an eighth grade education and excelled in
mathematics, mechanical drawing and all the related shop skills which make-up the
industrial arts field. His parents had a bakery and he learned to be a skilled baker by
the time he was twenty-one years old.
Looking for greater opportunity my grandfather moved his family from
England to Winnipeg, Canada, and opened up a bakery. My father and his older brother
Barney were the bakers and one of the products they made were bagels. Sometime after World
War I Mickey started to build his first bagel machine in a converted bedroom that he
turned into a workshop in his apartment above the bakery.
My parents were married in April 1920. When I was a youngster my mother
told me about my fathers apartment workshop and that he had a Canadian patent on his
first bagel machine which he obtained around 1918.
I was born on January 16, 1921 in Winnipeg
and we moved to Los Angeles,
California by the end of the same year. Being an expert all-around baker Mickey had no
problems joining the Bakers Union and getting work. He and his oldest brother Harry
opened a bakery on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, the largest Jewish Community in Los
Angeles at the time.
I was five years old when my father began working on his next bagel
machine in his garage workshop. I remember it quite well and I believe I could build that
machine now if I had to. The frame was made from 2" X 4" lumber and there was
more wood in the machine than metal.
Mickey was inventing a machine that would make a bagel the way a hand
made bagel was formed. I assume that this machine was similar to the first one that he
built in Canada. My father never discussed that machine with me. This machine used a
wooden drum covered on the periphery with cotton belting that was attached to the drum by
nails and glue, which was about 24" in diameter and 20" wide. It rolled two
pieces of dough side by side into two 8" strips. The two pieces of dough rolled
against a curved sheet metal baffle that was 1-1/2" from the drum at the beginning of
the roll and ½" at the end of the roll. When the dough strips left the baffle they
would hopefully fall onto two parallel rods (mandrels) about 1-3/4" in diameter and
about 8" long, where they momentarily rested (hopefully staying centered without
sliding off) and then assumed a horse-shoe shape on the mandrels.
Immediately after the dough strips were positioned on the mandrels, two
sleeves (tubes) parallel to the mandrels and whose centerlines coincided with centerlines
of the mandrels moved into and started rolling the pieces of dough around the mandrels.
The sleeves formed an inside diameter of about 2-1/2" and rolled the strips around
the mandrels to form the bagels.
When the sleeves passed the ends of the mandrels they opened up
releasing the two bagels onto a conveyor belt moving at right angles to the mandrels. The
sleeves then moved back to their starting position and were mechanically closed at the
same time. The sleeves were kept closed the same way Vise-Grip type pliers operate. Mickey
did not realize that he could have invented the Vise-Grips had he gone a little further
If everything worked perfectly, he had bagels, but all too often the
strips fell off the mandrels and ended up on the floor or their ends did not join or lock.
In addition to not being accurate enough the machine was too slow to be commercially
feasible. This machine went the way of the others. Mickey saved some parts from this
machine and reused them in his next attempt to build a successful bagel machine years
One day in 1932 I saw him playing around with a piece of dough, along
with some rods and tubes. Soon he was building his next bagel machine. I was now eleven
years old enjoying my summer vacation when he enlisted my help.
Mickey was now inventing an extrusion machine consisting of a 6"
diameter auger or screw drive, which was about 8" long in a seven inch inside
diameter chamber. One end funneled down to 1-3/4" diameter over an 8" to
10" distance, while the other end had two 1" bearings supporting the 1"
shaft that was driving the auger. Through the one inch shaft was a ½" shaft which
extended beyond the end of the funnel or cone about 8" and supported a 1-3/4"
rod that was about 8" long.
This machine extruded a continuous ring of dough outwardly through an
opening at the end of the tube. Mickey created a tubular knife sliding over the tube and
cutting off the ring of dough around the opening. All that was left was to roll this piece
of dough off the end of the rod. He had fashioned a perfectly shaped bagel without a lock.
He and I spent the summer building a machine to extrude bagels on these principles.
We built the machine in our one-car garage workshop with the only power
tool being a double wheel grinder. Our other tools consisted of a blacksmith drill, a
breast drill and other hand tools for metalworking. I resented missing a lot of baseball
games and not being able to play with my friends, but I understood what my father was
attempting to accomplish and I did not complain. I learned that things could be
accomplished without the proper tools, substituting shear sweat and determination.
Mickeys machine was probably the worlds first attempt to
extrude bagel dough. He had no way of knowing that forcing bagel dough through a 7"
diameter chamber, which funneled down to 1-3/4" on the other end would kill or burn
the bagel dough. This resulted in the bagels not rising in the final proof and looking
like hockey pucks with holes when baked. This machine went the way of the others and he
made no more attempts to invent a bagel machine until after World War II.
One afternoon in early 1945, Mickey was struck by a truck, he was
incapacitated and could not work for nine months. During his recuperation he dreamed up
his next bagel machine and made drawings for it. I was in the service at this time as a
navigator-bombardier flying combat missions over Japan and was not able to help him until
I returned home.
When World War II ended, I returned home from the Pacific Theatre and
was discharged from the Air Force. I returned to U.C.L.A. where I had two more years of
college to complete my education and earn my Industrial Arts Teaching Credential. Being
that machine shop practice was one of my required courses, I was able to help my father by
building his next prototype machine in the U.C.L.A. Industrial Arts Building and fulfil my
machine shop requirements at the same time.
This machine consisted of eight bagel-forming units and was smaller
than his earlier machine that consisted of two bagel-forming units. I called it the
"turret machine". It had a round tabletop approximately 36" in diameter
with eight 3" diameter openings equally spaced at 45° around its periphery. Mounted on the underside of the tabletop and centered
to each of the openings was a 5" long tube, 3" in diameter and split
longitudinally into three equal sections.
There was a 1-3/4" diameter mandrel about 8" long suspended
and centered in each of the eight tubes. The mandrels were attached to sliding mechanisms
fastened to the underside of the tabletop. A cam follower at the base of each sliding
mechanism was contained in a desmodromic cam and moved the mandrels up and down through
the tubes. The tabletop was driven by a large center driven shaft and revolved in a
counter-clockwise direction at about 2.5 revolutions per minute, while the mandrels were
moving up and down through the tubes.
Mounted above the top of the machine was a strip moulder consisting of
two 8" diameter drums with an endless cotton belt running around them. There was a
pressure plate curving around the rear drum capable of delivering an 8" strip of
dough to each of the eight mandrels as they passed by the discharge end of the strip
moulder. As the strip left the moulder it dropped into a "V" groove where it was
centered. The "V" groove flipped the 8" strip into a star shaped feeder,
which in turn deposited it behind each mandrel as it came by.
The tabletop was continuously moving and timing was critical. Almost
simultaneously one strip of dough was mechanically wrapped around one mandrel by means of
a set of curved wrappers. They were cammed to close one at a time, first wrapping one half
of the strip around the mandrel and then wrapping and overlapping the end of the other
half of the strip around the mandrel by about ¾".
The sliding fixture supporting the mandrel was then cammed downward
pulling the mandrel through the tube and rolled the strip, which locked the two
overlapping ends together. The bagel was now formed and left in the bottom of the tube. As
soon as the top of the mandrel cleared the bottom of the tube, two thirds of the segmented
tube was cammed open to the right releasing the bagel into a chute that positioned the
bagel onto a conveyor belt below.
When the machine was finished we took it to a bakery and made bagels.
We scaled presses with an old Dutchess bun divider and hand fed the pieces into a circular
feeder just above the strip moulder. When the dough pieces were properly relaxed after
dividing, it could produce 1800 quality bagels an hour with two unskilled operators, if
there were no breakdowns.
I felt a machine designed by an engineer from this prototype would be
commercially successful. A cousin, a prominent engineer was very interested in this
project and had an engineer in his firm design and prepare the engineering drawings. I
took the drawings to a few engineering companies to get bids for building the machine.
None of them would give me a bid for a completed machine. They all said they would build
the machine on a time and materials basis only. None of the engineering firms would even
venture giving us ballpark estimates on a final cost.
We came to the conclusion that this machine was too complicated and too
expensive to build. Our finances were very limited and we decided not to proceed with the
project. It was obvious to me that the industry could use a bagel machine and I began
putting a variety of ideas on paper contemplating an entirely different approach to making
machine made bagels.
In 1950 in my free time I invented and patented the first folding
Ping-Pong table on wheels. I also started building a bagel machine that I had already made
drawings for. It used a steel tube 3-1/2" in outside diameter with a 1/8" wall
thickness. The tube was 36" long and was mounted inside of an angle iron frame in a
I designed a special gear/pulley, made a wooden split pattern and cast
six of them. The gear/pulleys were about 6" in diameter with teeth on the periphery
of both sides with a two-inch face. By powering one gear/pulley I could drive the other
five, thus all the gear/pulleys were turning at the same speed and direction. The six
gear/pulleys were mounted on the bottom of the 36" steel tube in conjunction with six
regular pulleys that were mounted on the top of the tube.
The centerlines of the gear/pulleys and pulleys were in perfect
alignment to each other. They had to be perfectly aligned in order for the six 1.7"
wide matched cotton belts to be centered and parallel to each other while running through
the inside of the tube.
I made a wooden mandrel that was 1-3/4" in diameter with a tapered
lead-in at the top. I supported it above the tube by using a mounting bracket outside and
in-between two of the cotton belts. The mandrel was centered in the tube and was as long
as the tube.
The belts formed a moving cylindrical wall that pulled while it rolled
the dough pieces around the suspended mandrel. When a piece of dough was dropped into the
top of the tube, the moving cylinder started rolling it against the taper at the top of
the mandrel and gradually elongated it into a round strip around the mandrel. By the time
the strip of dough reached the straight part of the mandrel, the ends were joined together
forming a toroid (doughnut or bagel shaped piece of dough). The bagel simply rolled off
the mandrel and fell to the bottom of the machine as the belts moved around the bottom of
This bagel machine proved my theory that lumps of dough or dough balls
could be directly rolled into a bagel and that my principal was sound. This principal had
the advantage of simplicity and much higher production rates since the dough pieces could
be directly fed into the machine at higher rates without transfers or changes in
mechanical direction. However, when I fed this machine with multiple pieces of dough, the
dough started to build-up on the belts rendering them useless for any kind of sustained
Based on the conclusions of my belt machine tests, I felt there had to
be a better way of designing a bagel machine utilizing my principals. Even utilizing the
best belting materials of the time, belts had huge built-in inherent negative qualities
that I felt were not desirable in commercial applications. I then pursued alternative
materials and means to pull and roll dough pieces around mandrels.
I decided that sprockets and chains were the best solution to drive
another kind of moving cylinder. My first idea was to fasten half cylinders longitudinally
to chains that would oppose each other to form the moving cylinder. The half cylinders
would be 2-3/8" long to correspond to the length of the chain pitches. The opposing
cylinders would perform the same function as the six belts being pulled through the tube.
Before starting to build this machine I remembered my fathers three
piece split sleeve that he used in his bagel machines. I designed a split sleeve similar
to my fathers that would attach to a single chain and I called it a "Cup". Thus
was born the idea for the present "Thompson Bagel Machine" which is generically
known throughout the World !
My cups were just under 3-3/4" long with an inside diameter of
2-3/4". They were made out of steel tubing divided longitudinally into a half section
and two quarter sections. The two quarter sections were connected by hinges to the half
section which formed a cylinder. I called the half section the "body" and the
quarter sections "wings"; we still use the same terminology today. The bodies
fasten to #50 Roller chains by way of B-2 attachment links on every sixth pitch.
One chain contained 36 cups and moved around two 50B-36 sprockets. The
36 cups created a cylinder that opened at the top to receive the piece of dough and then
closed around the dough to form a cylinder. The cylinder rolled the dough around a mandrel
and into a bagel. The cups would again open up at the bottom to release the bagel onto a
conveyor belt or turntable at the rate of 2,400 consistently formed bagels an hour.
The beauty of this method was a consistently formed cylinder that could
not fray, elongate with wear, slip, clog up with different types of dough, need tremendous
maintenance (frequent belt replacement) and cleaning. The cups could work at any angle,
vertical, diagonal and horizontal, with vertical being the best method because it
incorporated and harnessed natures gift of gravity. The dough and formed bagel
always moving downward without any change of direction until deposited onto a conveyor
belt or turntable.
I started building this machine in the summer of 1958, in my free time
when I was not teaching school. I built this prototype in my garage workshop on Bradbury
Road using a powered drill press, grinding wheels, a hand powered hacksaw, a vise and a
$40.00 cracker box A/C welder and miscellaneous hand tools.
I had to bend the #50 attachment links in my vise to conform their
shape to the curve of the cup bodies. The attachment links were made from hardened steel
and cracked when I bent them, so I then had to weld and grind them. Since I was always in
a hurry to get as much done as possible, I watered quenched the hot welded attachment
links and did not realize I was making them very brittle. When I turned on my machine for
the first time all the attachment links fractured and the cups fell off the chain. I had
to start all over again with new links and this time after welding them, I let them air
cool and they did not fracture on my next try. I should have kept a log for all the hours
that I spent on this project; it must have been over a thousand.
When this machine was ready for testing in a bakery, I contacted Mr.
Harvey Slatin, proprietor of Modern Rye Baking Company in Culver City, California. He and
his plant foreman, Mr. Lou Wegman, were very receptive to testing my machine in their
plant. Upon successfully testing the machine Mr. Slatin contemplated going into the
wholesale bagel business as they could have been the first bakery in the world to automate
bagel production. Unfortunately, to produce automated bagels they would have had to move
and reconfigure their roll line, which they did not have the space to do, and thus the
project never got off the ground.
While the bagel machine was in Modern Ryes plant there was a
Retail Bakers Association meeting in Los Angeles. This provided me with an
opportunity to show most of the members my machine making bagels. Their reactions were
very positive which gave me much encouragement.
The results of my tests kept getting better and better as I made many
improvements and refinements to my mandrel designs. I was convinced that I had something
worthwhile, the question was what do I do with it after it was perfected to my
I had no intention of going into the bagel manufacturing business. I
offered the machine to American Machine and Foundry (AMF) on a royalty basis. They
complimented me on the concept, but felt that the bagel market was not large enough to
justify the great expense of tooling up and manufacturing my bagel machine. I then
contacted two other large companies and was told the exact same thing.
Meanwhile Mickey had completed his next machine. Since the eight
mandrel machine was too expensive to build, he came up with a single mandrel machine that
was much faster by producing 1,500 bagels per hour. He also designed a rudimentary dough
divider that he mounted on top of this machine. He was a visionary in many ways with the
technology he developed for this machine. I was to borrow his dough divider feeding and
positioning concepts, and incorporate them in my "Piggyback" single bank bagel
After experimenting and extensively testing both Mickeys and my
machines, it was obvious that the machine I developed was much simpler and faster. With
the utmost admiration and respect for my father, I had to choose my machine and move
I retained a mechanical engineer to design a production prototype and
soon discovered that I had to re-design much of the machine along with having to make all
of the engineering drawings myself.
I then prepared a list of the largest bakeries in the country that I
thought would possibly be interested in a bagel machine. I received a reply from one of
these companies, it was from Murray Lender of Lenders Bagels in New Haven,
Connecticut. Murray Lender called me and made an appointment to fly in for a demonstration
of my machine at Modern Rye Bakery.
Lenders Bagels was just promoting frozen bagels and needed the
ability to produce more bagels. I demonstrated my machine to Murray and he was so
impressed that he leased the very first one. At this time Lenders Bagels was
operating in a six-car garage behind an apartment house on Baldwin Avenue in New Haven,
Connecticut. In August 1963 the machine was installed at the Baldwin Avenue address. It
took two weeks of a lot of sweat, minor adjustments and some accommodations with Sam
Lenders doughs, to finally arrive at good bagels. Although my wife Ada and I started
Thompson Bagel Machine Mfg. Corp. in 1961, this was considered the beginning of
revolutionizing the bagel industry.
With the advent of the Thompson Bagel Machine any entrepreneur that
wanted to enter into the bagel business or expand their business was now provided with the
ability to produce unlimited quantities of bagels without expensive skilled help. This
brought the price of bagels down and made them more readily available. Bagels started to
shed their ethnic roots and more people started eating them. Ultimately tens of millions
of people enjoy eating bagels and tens of thousands of jobs were created by the advent of
the Thompson Bagel Machine.
Before Lenders installed my bagel machine, they made bagels in
the following manner: Sam Lender mixed the bagel dough and one man cut it into small slabs
and fed it into an Italian breadstick machine. The Italian breadstick machine made bagel
dough strips that were then distributed to workstations where six to eight men rolled them
by hand into bagels. With this system they averaged 50 dozen bagels per hour per man. The
first Thompson machine, with three unskilled workers, was able to do the work of eight
Lenders Bagel bakery was very fortunate with the timing of my
bagel machine. There were some larger bagel bakeries that were selling retail, wholesale
and now entering into the frozen bagel market. It was obvious that there was a need for
bagel machines in the bagel industry. All of the other machines and equipment for
automating bagels were readily available, and my bagel machine could easily be integrated
with this other equipment.
Two of the largest bagel bakeries were Abels Bagels in Buffalo,
New York and Bagel Kings of Hialeah located just outside of Miami, Florida. Abels
was already in the frozen bagel business. They had a unique way of controlling the weight
of each bagel for uniformity. They placed a given weight of dough, lets say 9
pounds, 6 ounces at each workstation and the baker knew he had to end up with 60 bagels
weighing 2-1/2 ounces each. Bagel Kings of Hialeah made bagels the usual way.
Lenders agreed to let us to use their bakery, for the purpose of
demonstrating our bagel machine in production. I invited representatives from the larger
bagel producing companies from Chicago to the East Coast, for a demonstration. Twenty
companies attended the demonstration at Lenders Bagel Bakery. Within two years
almost all of them were our customers, with a number of them leasing multiple two-bank
vertical bagel machines. We initially leased our bagel machines at very reasonable rates,
which included all services.
In late 1965 I designed and built a one-bank diagonal bagel machine for
use in the smaller bakeries. At this time my father was 72 years old and I told him we
wanted him to work full-time as a Consulting Engineer on research and development projects
for Thompson Bagel Machine Mfg. Corp.
Mickey had already started to work on a bagelette machine and continued
to work on many projects until he was in his eighties. The rotary dough divider that I
designed and developed incorporated many of Mickeys revolutionary ideas and was an
offshoot of his work.
From August 1963 through the fall of 1965 I devoted my time to
improving the bagel machine, along with leasing, installing and servicing them. I was away
from my family one month out of every three, lugging a forty-pound toolbox and a large
suitcase of clothes. I made a small folding hand truck for the toolbox and put wheels on
my luggage. As far as anyone knows I was the first person to put wheels on luggage and the
luggage companies obviously thought it was a good idea.
In the fall of 1965 I was able to open my own factory, which gave me
the space and capability to manufacture all of our components and make our operations more
efficient. Due to a lack of space we had to find reputable companies to manufacture most
of the components for our bagel machines, while we manufactured a small number of the
parts. Until then I was only able to do most of the assembling and all of the aligning of
the machines in my workshop.
For years I realized that the bagel machine needed its own dough
divider. I did not want to copy everyone elses designs. I wanted my divider to be
the most accurate drum type ever conceived and built. I stayed away from a piston type
dough divider because I wanted to feed my machines directly without the dough pieces
needing to have intermediate proof. As I stated earlier, my rotary dough divider that I
designed and patented incorporated many of Mickeys revolutionary ideas, along with
my own and was introduced in 1980.
We sold one of the first 2-row (2-pocket) prototypes along with one
two-bank bagel machine to the Baltimore Bagel Company in San Diego, California. It has
produced millions of dozens of bagels flawlessly since 1981. It has been so reliable and
inexpensive to maintain that the money saved helped Baltimore Bagel grow into a chain of
19 retail stores! Imagine all these stores and all of their wholesale accounts being
supplied with bagels by this one dough divider and bagel machine! In 1994 Baltimore Bagel
added one more of these systems to keep up with the high demand for their bagels.
Einstein Bagel Corp. purchased the Baltimore Bagel Company chain in
1996. They investigated every bagel machine manufacturer in the world and were so
impressed with the performance and quality of our equipment, they awarded us a contract to
build all of their bagel machines. They are now our second largest customer. Lenders
is still our customer after thirty-six years and the worlds largest producer of
bagels. We are doing a lot of things right to be considered the best in the world after
Our Company is always leading the field in advancing bagel technology.
In late 1990 Lenders asked us to design and build for them the worlds most
compact bagel machine. It had to be under 20" wide with true 10" mandrel
centers, a solid steel frame, suspended on pulleys for ease of moving in and out of their
lines, and would be capable of producing 4800 bagels an hour with any size cup or mandrel
These machines had to be made with precision that was only found in the
aerospace industry. By August of 1991 we delivered the first very large order of K-Frame
bagel machines to the Lenders plant in Mattoon, Illinois. They were installed on the
most advanced computerized bagel line ever conceived. After seven years of operation our
bagel machines run at 99.5% efficiency.
Winkler working with other companies engineered, built and installed a
number of bagel lines around our K-Frame bagel machines that produce 64,800 bagels an
hour! It only takes four people to operate these lines with the same 99.5% efficiency.
There is not another bagel machine on this planet that comes close to any of the
performance records that we have established with these machines!
Our machines are producing bagels all over the world. There are many
different configurations of our bagel machines. We are very flexible and will design and
build for special applications. Our machines are so versatile that they have been
incorporated into and used with every major manufactures dough dividing,
intermediate proofing and final proofing equipment.
Our company is truly a family business handed from generation to
generation. I am now the Consulting Engineer, as I retired in 1986, at which time my older
son Steve became the President. He started working for the company when he was a teenager.
He is doing a superb job of managing and running the company with quality and pride. My
wife Ada has been working shoulder to shoulder with me from the very start. You should
call the office where she cheerfully answers the phone and is very happy to assist you in
answering many of your questions. In addition, another fine assist is our son, Craig. He
is a computer genius and does consulting and designing this Thompson family is full
of ideas and solutions.