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.