The origin of the bagel is still an issue for debate. Most food historians have come to the conclusion that the bagel is of Jewish origin, probably in Poland, sometime in the 17th century. The exact year and history of the name has yet to be resolved.
This is what the food historians say:
"Theories abound as to their [bagels] origin. The word derives from 'beigen,' German for 'to bend,' and the bagel is a descendant of the pretzel. The first Jewish community in Poland, established by invitation and charter in the thirteenth century, probably brought 'biscochos' with them. The boiled and baked roll with a hole dates possible from the Roman period.... Today, in Cracow, where some say the present-day form of bagel was born, the bagel is alive and well, sold on many street corners."
(In "Jewish Cooking in America", Joan Nathan,Knopf,New York,1994, p. 83-84)
"The bagel is a Jewish bread, apparently originating in South Germany, migrating to Poland and thence to North America where it has become the most famous and archetypal Jewish food. Its name derives from the Yiddish word 'beygal' from the German dialect word 'beugel,'meaning ring' or bracelet.' Its history means, of course, that it is an Ashkenazi rather than a Sephardi food. As Claudia Roden points out: Because of their shape - with no beginning and no end - bagels symbolize the eternal cyle of life.'"
(In "Oxford Companion to Food", Alan Davidson,Oxford University Press,Oxford,p. 49)
"In the Joys of Yiddish , Leo Rosten notes that "The first printed mention of bagels...is to be found in the Community Regulations of Kracow, Poland, for the year 1610-which stated that bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth." He adds that the word is derived from the German word beugel, meaning a round loaf of bread. There are those who dispute this and claim that it derives from the middle High German word bugel,' which means a twisted or curved bracelet or ring..."
(In "Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Food Encyclopedia", Craig Claiborne, Times Books, New York,1985, p. 23)
"...It's believed that bagels were invented by a Jewish baker in Vienna in 1683. To thank King John III Sobieski of Poland for saving the city from Turkish invaders, the anonymous baker crafted a hard roll in the shape of a riding stirrup, in honor of the king's favorite hobby. The bread's original name was 'bugel,' from the German for stirrup." It's high time that that piece of fakelore be laid to rest. The earliest known use of the Yiddish word "beygl" is in the communal rules that the leaders of the Jewish community of Cracow promulgated in 1610. The rules stipulate that bagels are among the gifts which may be given to women in childbirth and to midwives. The word was thus being used at least 73 years before John III Sobieski defeated the Turks. The bagel, in fact, is even older. When a word or expression is new or thought to be little known, it is often defined... yet the communal rules of 1610 contain no definition or explanation. Hence it is clear that the word beygl was well established in Cracow Yiddish of the early 17th century. Indeed, since those rules allude to earlier communal rules about bagels, we may be certain that this bread is even older. We do not know when and where the bagel was invented nor whether its inventor was a Jew or a German. Contrary to popular opinion, Yiddish beygl is not derived from German bugel, although the two words are distant cousins."
(In "A Bagel Brief: Rolling Back the Lineage,"The New York Times May 7, 1993, Section A; Page 30; Column 4; Editorial Desk
"In the book "Menu Mystique" , Norman Odya Krohn, discussing Russian bubliki , writes: "This is the name for the original bagel that was made famous in Russian song and rhyme." Held together by string, they were said to have been sold at Russian fairs and were believed to bring good luck. Wherever it might have first appeared, the bagel's name as we know it today evolved slowly; based on the Yiddish verb beigen , meaning "to bend," the roll with the hole was called a beygel.The bagel persevered and flourished in Europe for a few centuries before heading for foreign shores. In the United States, the bagel first appeared at Ellis Island, brought by Jewish refugees leaving Eastern Europe shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. However, the destination for most emigrants was New York City, and here the bagel settled."
In "OBSERVATIONS;THE BAGEL'S BEGINNINGS; FOLLOWING THIS HUMBLE ROLL AROUND THE WORLD," Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1987, Magazine; Page 36B)
About bagels in the United States
"As a child I lived in Larchmont, New York. Every Sunday, my father would bring back bagels from one of the thirty or so bagel bakers who still practiced their art in the fifties in New York City....By the mid-1950s my father was a part of a growing Jewish Sunday-morning tradition of men who went out to buy bagels, cream cheese, and lox so their wives could sleep in...Today bagels have become such a part of American culture that Dunkin' Donuts and Burger King carry them...Until the late fifties bagels were handcrafted in little two-or three-man cellar bakeries sprinkled around New York's Lower East Side...In these cellars the oven was built so low that a pit two or three feet deep had to be dug in front of it for the man working the oven.
By 1907 the International Beigel Bakers' Union was created, but by the mid-twenties the number of bagel bakeries declined as Jews turned away from their old folk customs...
In 1951 a Broadway comedy, Bagels and Yox , put the word bagel into such mainstream magazines as Time; bagels were distributed at intermission.
That same year Family Circle included a recipe for bageles (its spelling)...."Even up to the 1950s, you literally could not give a bagel away from Monday to Saturday," said Murray Lender, son of the founder of Lender's bagels.
"Most people still thought of it as a Jewish dish." But clearly, if bagels were featured in Family Circle , they were ont eh way to recognition in America. Mr. Lender's father... came to New Haven in 1927 and bought a small roll and bread bakery.
In 1955 when he got out of the service and went into his dad's business, Lender's started to expand, packaging their bagels to sell in supermarkets...In 1962 Lender's bought and made operational the first bagel machine. At the same thime they began freezing bagels, which they marketed nationally under the Lender's brand..."
(In "Jewish Cooking in America", Joan Nathan,Alfred A. Knopf, New York,1998, p. 83-85)
"The bagel was first mentioned in American print only in 1932. The first bagels sold in a supermarket were from Lender's Bagel Bakery...in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1955...
The origins of the bagel are lost somewhere in the history of the Ashkenazi Jews, who brought Yiddish culture to America. The word bagel derives from a Yiddish word,'beygl,' from the German 'bugel' for a round loaf of bread. There is a story that the word may also derive from the German word 'Buegel,' meaning 'stirrup,' referring to a legend that the bakers of Vienna commemorated John III's victory over the Turks in their city in 1683 by molding their bread into the shape of stirrups because the liberated Austrians had clung to the king's stirrups as he rode by..."
(In "The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink", John F. Mariani, Lebhar-Friedman,New York,1999,p. 16)
From http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodbreads.html, adapted and illustrated to be posted by Leopoldo Costa