Industrial Bagel Forming Equipment

Thompson Bagel Machine
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History and Development

by Daniel T. Thompson                    Printer Friendly Version

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 father’s 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 Baker’s 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 " 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 with it.

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 later.

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 " 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.

Mickey’s machine was probably the world’s 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 ".

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 vertical position.

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 the gear/pulleys.

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 production.

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 nature’s 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 Rye’s plant there was a Retail Baker’s 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 satisfaction?

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 machines.

After experimenting and extensively testing both Mickey’s 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 forward immediately.

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 Lender’s 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.

Lender’s 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 Lender’s 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 Lender’s 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 Lender’s 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 skilled workers.

Lender’s 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 Abel’s Bagels in Buffalo, New York and Bagel Kings of Hialeah located just outside of Miami, Florida. Abel’s 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, let’s 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.

Lender’s 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 Lender’s 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 Mickey’s 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 else’s 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 Mickey’s 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. Lender’s is still our customer after thirty-six years and the world’s largest producer of bagels. We are doing a lot of things right to be considered the best in the world after thirty-six years!

Our Company is always leading the field in advancing bagel technology. In late 1990 Lender’s asked us to design and build for them the world’s 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 combination.

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 Lender’s 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 manufacture’s 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.

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