There was a tradition among many observant Jewish families to make bagels on Saturday evenings at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Due to Jewish Sabbath restrictions, they were not permitted to cook during the period of the Sabbath and, compared with other types of bread, bagels could be baked very quickly as soon as it ended.
That the name originated from beugal (old spelling of Bügel, meaning bail/bow or bale) is considered plausible by many, both from the similarities of the word and because traditional handmade bagels are not perfectly circular but rather slightly stirrup-shaped. (This, however, may be due to the way the boiled bagels are pressed together on the baking sheet before baking.) Also, variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian German to refer to a round loaf of bread (see Gugelhupf for an Austrian cake with a similar ring shape), or in southern German dialects (where beuge refers to a pile, e.g.: holzbeuge, or woodpile). According to the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, 'bagel' derives from the transliteration of the Yiddish 'beygl', which came from the Middle High German 'böugel' or ring, which itself came from 'bouc' (ring) in Old High German, similar to the Old English 'bēag' '(ring), and 'būgan' (to bend or bow). Similarly another etymology in the Webster's New World College Dictionary says that the Middle High German form was derived from the Austrian German 'beugel', a kind of croissant, and was similar to the German'bügel', a stirrup or ring.
In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, England, bagels, or as locally spelled "beigels" have been sold since the middle of the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on racks.
Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Jews, with a thriving business developing in New York City that was controlled for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all the bagels by hand. The bagel came into more general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th century, at least partly due to the efforts of bagel baker Harry Lender and Florence Sender, who pioneered automated production and distribution of frozen bagels in the 1960s.
In modern times Canadian-born astronaut Gregory Chamitoff is the first person known to have taken a batch of bagels into space on his 2008 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. His shipment consisted of 18 sesame seed bagels.