Ah, the bagel. The first bread to travel to outer space 1and the one that spawned the age-old question, “what is lox?” Not all of us in the U.S., however, grew up near a bagel shop. Many of us were introduced to the bagel through the legacy of one family: The Lenders.
Although the bagel was around as early as the 1600’s, and came to America with Eastern European immigrants in the 19th century, it didn’t really leave the confines of the Jewish communities and become more mainstream until, in 1927, a Polish baker named harry Lender established the first bagel factory in New Haven, Connecticut. It was actually the garage of his house but, still, it was the first bagel factory. He sold the bagels he made to the local Jewish grocery stores.
But it wasn’t Harry alone who is responsible for making the average American a bagel lover, it was his son, Murray, who was born in 1930, that really pushed the bagel forward. The company started putting six bagels into plastic bags in 1955. harry bought a large freezer and was able to freeze his bagels and make sure they did not go stale after 24 hours, enabling them to be distributed across much of Connecticut. Harry died in 1960, and the company, H. Lender & Sons, was taken over by Harry’s sons, Murray, Marvin, and Sam. The brothers started introducing frozen bagels into grocery stores all over the US.
It was at that time that Murray began making humorous television commercials, where he described the bagel as as the “Jewish English Muffin.” People took notice and the popularity of Lender’s frozen bagels soared. The first bagel I ever ate was a Lender’s frozen bagel. Murray, with great marketing savvy, always maintained his comedic marketing style, and would do silly things, such as making a lipsticked bagel to represent Margaret Thatcher during a Peace Talks, or man-sized bagel for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was also known as a philanthropist. He was president of the company from 1974 to 1982. In 1984 it was sold to Kraft Foods, and in 2003, Pinnacle Foods Group bought the company.
Murray Lender died in a hospital in Miami, Florida on March 21, 2012, from complications due to a fall 10 weeks previously. He was 81 years old. The Washington post described him as the most important man in the modern history of bagels.
- In 2008, Astronaut Gregory Chamifoff took 18 Fairmount bagels with him to the International Space Station.