The Wichinsky Bagelmatic

Reader [Eric Mockler] brought Louis “Lebel” Wichinsky to our attention, a colorful inventor he ran into some years back in the Borscht Belt of Upstate New York. Described as a Mel Brooks doppelgänger, Lebel was born the son of a baker in Hurleyville NY. During WW2 he served in England where he lodged with two brothers who also owned a bakery. When his British friends suggested he should build a bagel machine because “you Yanks can do anything”, he accepted their challenge and began working on a design. Despite taking a detour through Israel as an aircraft mechanic on his journey home, he finally succeeded in 1964 after 20-some years of tinkering. A patent followed in 1968, despite discovering that someone else had independently invented similar device.

Chuting bagels at 120 rounds per minute from the Bagelmatic wasn’t enough for Lebel, who pursued a variety of other endeavors — building his own airplane, bar-coded bullets, and vending machine locks. Perhaps most notable was his tireless promotion of bio-fueled cars in the 1980s. Not deterred by a vegetable oil mishap that burned out the interior of a modified Mercedes 220D, Lebel turned to a less expensive Volkswagen Rabbit. He made headlines driving this aromatic vehicle around the country, promoting alternate fuels like vegetable and hemp seed oil.  Powered by whatever cooking oil he could scrounge up from restaurants and bakeries, his Rabbit could be easily identified by the smell of French fries and the DEEP FRY license plate as it drove by.

Lebel passed away in 2000, leaving behind quite a legend. His original bagel machine is on exhibit at the local museum, an annual Bagel Festival (cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus) sprung up in his honor, and the state government officially decreed the area as “The Bagel Capital”. Lebel left us with some folk wisdom, too — “If General Custer had one of my machines at Little Big Horn shooting raw bagels, nobody would have ever heard of Sitting Bull. A rifle don’t fire that fast.”

Let us know in the comments if you ever ran into Louis Wichinsky or his Bagelmatic machine.


39 thoughts on “The Wichinsky Bagelmatic

    1. So, my mom is from Hurlyville, and grew up with Lebel, he was a bit older.

      I have heard many stories about him, so imagine my surprise to see a hackaday article.

      The two stories that stuck out were about his dog.

      He had a dog that would sit at the steering wheel of his vehicle, so he would tow the car to look like the dog was driving.

      Also, I am not sure if it is the same dog, but it could say “hamburger”.

      1. My mom was also from Hurleyville, and we actually spent three years in the early 80s living there. Lebel was a really great guy, I was 10 when we moved there and he remembered my mom when she was a kid and he was very helpful to us.

          1. Don’t get me started about regions of Ontario, according to what organisation we’re talking about I might be in Western Ontario, Central Ontario, Southern Ontario, Central Ontario, South Central Ontario… Oh and Northern Ontario is anything from the top 90% of the province to the top 40%

      1. For some reason, much of the population in NYC and on the island seem to consider anything north of Yonkers “upstate”. I spent too many years 3 hours north of Syracuse to care about the fine graduations and names down south.

  1. I believe my great grandpa was the inventor of the “independently invented similar device”; when I was younger his children (my grandparents) showed me his patent application for a machine that prepared individual slices of pie. As far as I know he never sold or used the plans, but they did a great job inspiring my lifetime of inventing

  2. In the early 1990’s my wife and I lived in Dallas, TX. Northpark Mall had one of these bagel machines pumping out bagels into a vat of boiling water, if I recall correctly, and it was fun to watch. I’m an engineer and this struck me as a “useful Rube Goldberg” machine.

    1. I’ve often wonder what kind of skills that cats have in that area, that they have chosen that name.
      I mean, do their cats have a truly unique way of shoving stuff off of ledges? Can they play musical instruments (no, I’m not referring violin strings)?
      Or what?

  3. I knew Lebel. He was the first local I met in Hurleyville in 1987. When I would meet him at the post office getting mail, he would show me envelopes from NASA. “Oh they’re finally getting back to me!”, he would say.

  4. For many years, my wife Jill and I owned and operated a company in Colorado that designed and manufactured amusement games. We made things like coin-operated basketball games, walking pianos (think “BIG”,) baseball speed pitching games, etc. One day in the early 70s Lebel showed up at our factory in his cooking-oil-powered car. He had an idea for a game that he wanted us to make under royalty. He called it “The Can-traption.” It was to be basically similar to the basketball games we were making, about 30” wide, 8’ tall and 8’ long, with a backboard and a goal. The idea was that instead of using a basketball, the player inserted an empty food or drink can into a mechanism which instantly crushed the can into a little ball and shot it toward the backboard. The player could steer the launch mechanism, and with luck or skill could maybe make a can-basket. The idea was that by playing the game people would have fun while re-cycling cans. For lots of reasons it wasn’t something we could see ourselves making, (lots of safety issues for one thing,) but even so, Lebel hung around for a couple of days regaling us with his many stories and creative ideas. Truly a fascinating and memorable character and we were always happy we had the opportunity to meet him. I never knew what happened to him until I read your post. Foster Brashear ADASTRA, INC.

  5. lebel lent a bagel machine to my friend in south fallsburg ny for use at his bialy and pletzel bakery Lebel was very generous inventor and all around great guy thank you for writing this article

    1. Louis “Lebel” Wichinsky was my father. To everyone who shared a kind, funny or loving comment about him and/or his inventions, thank you for remembering.

      1. In 1964 or 1965 my parents brought Lebel’s wife’s parents to Hurleyville from the Bronx. I think Joe and Sarah were their names. I am 73 and still remember the house and Lebel talked about going to Las Vegas to sell a bagel machine that could mass produce bagels. Now I live in Vegas.

      2. I remember going to Hurleyville in 1964 or 1965 bringing my father’s cousin Joe and Sarah to visit their daughter. I remember Lebel talking about going to Vegas to sell his Bagel machine. I remember the house you lived in because we lived in the Bronx and it was so different.He was very interesting.

      3. hi Ceil My name is Kevin Mc Daniel. I live in Hurleyville and I remember your dad when I was trying to wrestle with the County about selling me a house I had been in contract for in the early 2000’s. I was at the post office and he introduced himself and said he was a big supporter of my efforts. Later I learned a lot of interesting facts about your dad from folks who knew him well like Fast Eddie.
        Aside from his recognition for the bagelmatic, I learned about how many patents he had and of course, there was his french fry car, which he toured around with promoting sustainable less-polluting methods of travel. The reason I am reaching out to you now is that it is past time that Hurleyville and Sullivan County honor one of its own, with a historical plaque at his old home here, and organize events celebrating his life and gifts.
        Unfortunately, there is no wiki page for Lebel, so my sense of his accomplishments are very limited. Would you be willing to share with me any information about his life which I can bring to the County historical society’s attention?
        thanks much, kevin

  6. I met Louis Wichinsky back in 1992, matter of fact I bought his very first home that Mr. &Mrs. Within sky ever built in Harleysville N.Y . Yes tgat means I lived right next door to him . Then my ex and I even built an upright bagel machine for him . I even got to see tge plant. He was definitely was an amazing man .

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