3200 BC ca.     The ancient Egyptians represent bagel-like snacks in hieroglyphics.

1264 AD     Poland, the bagel’s future birthplace, makes a move towards religious tolerance when Polish Prince Boleslaw the Pious issues a decree that allows Jews to buy, sell, and touch bread with the same freedom as Christians. His radicalism is soon clipped, however, when only three years later a group of bishops forbade Christians from buying any food items from Jews.

1610     Bagels (spelled bajgiel) make their first appearance in written records, when the community regulations of the city of Krakow  state that bagels were to be given as a gift to women after childbirth. The ring-shape was said to symbolize fertility and the continuity of life.

1674     King Jan Sobieski takes the throne in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He declines to uphold a 1496 decree that gave the Krakow bakers guild a monopoly on the production of white bread and obwarzanek (a cousin of the German pretzel); thus opening the bread-making industry to non-guild-members and, for the first time, Jews.

1683     Sobieski saves his state from Turkish invaders in the Battle of Vienna. Legend has it that in honor of the king’s victory, a baker made a roll in the shape of his stirrup and pronounced it beugel (meaning stirrup). Whether the story is fact or fiction, and despite earlier mentions of the bajgiel, the association of King Sobieski with the modern bagel has endured.

1850 ca.     Bagels (locally spelled beigels) made their appearance in London, stacked on wooden dowels in the windows of bakeries in the Brick Lane district.

1900 ca.     As estimated 70 bagel bakeries were operating in the Lower East Side of New York City.

1907     The International Beigel Bakers’ Union, or Bagel Bakers Local 338, was created, taking complete control of bagel production in NYC, and setting the standard for the crisp-on-the-outside-but-chewy-on-the-inside New York-style bagel. Their handmade bagels would preside for nearly 70 years.

1927     Harry Lender establishes one of the few wholesale bagel bakeries outside of New York, in New Haven, CT.

1950 ca.     A recipe for bagels appears in Family Circle, recommended as either an hors d’oeuvre or a breakfast roll.

1951     The roll-with-a-hole debuts on Broadway, in the comedy Bagel and Yox. Freshly baked bagels with cream cheese were handed out to the audience during intermission, earning the baked snack a more mainstream fan base and a mention in TIME magazine.

1956     Harry Lender’s son Murray buys a freezer, and realizes that freezing and thawing bagels does not decimate their flavor. Over the next few years, their supermarket-ready chain of bagels explode in popularity and become a staple in the American diet.

1962     Lender’s Bagels begins employing an automatic bagel-making machine invented by Canadian Dan Thompson.

1970 ca.     The Bagel Bakers Local 338 was subsumed by a larger bakers union.

1990 ca.     Bagels overtake donuts in popularity.

1990     Bagels start to cross ethnic and racial lines, when thai bagel maker Sam Thongkrieng opens Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.

1999     McDonald’s launches its version of the bagel, which New York food merchant Eli Zabar dismissed as “a roll in the shape of a bagel.” Texturally lacking and offered as part of blatantly non-kosher meals (with ham as one of the toppings), the McBagel made no effort to uphold a standard of authenticity.

2008     Bagels go to space when Canadian astronaut Gregory Chamitoff brings three six-packs of Montreal’s Fairmount Bagels with him on the Discovery.

2011     Starbucks attempts to woo New Yorkers with a revamp of its bagel image; however their “New York-style” bagels are largely a flop, leaving bagel devotees to search New York’s myriad bagel shops for that mythical best bagel.

Further Reading:

“A Short History of the Bagel” by Joan Nathan, slate.com

“Bagels vs. Doughnuts” by William Safire, The New York Times

“Montreal-born astronaut brings bagels into space” by CTV News

The Bagel: the Surprising History of a Modest Bread, Maria Balinska, Yale University Press, 2008

“The Secret History of Bagels” by Ari Weinzweig, The Atlantic

“Um, Did Somebody Say McBagels?” by David Barstow, The New York Times

“Was Life Better When Bagels Were Smaller?” by Ed Levine, The New York Times