Industrialization and the History of the Matzo Machine

The Streit's matzo factory on Suffolk and Rivington. Photo by Leo London, Flickr

For centuries matzo was a handmade specialty, carefully rolled into a thin, cratered moon shape and pricked with a fork. Today, many Orthodox communities still make this version — called shmurah — which is supervised by a rabbi from start to finish. But industrialization in the mid–nineteenth century forever changed the matzo industry.

Historians trace the first matzo machine back to a French Jew named Isaac Singer (no relation to the American inventor of the sewing machine), who, in 1838, invented a contraption that automated rolling the dough, rather than kneading it, which cut prep time. The new contraption greatly increased the supply of matzo, which also made it cheaper. Countries around Europe soon began using the machine, a great boon for the growing Jewish population across the world. In 1888, Behr Manischewitz, a Russian rabbi, brought a version of Singer’s machine to America, settling in Cincinnati and establishing the country’s first matzo company. By 1915, when Aron Streit emigrated to New York from Austria and founded his matzo business, Manischewitz had upgraded to three rolling machines and was by far the largest producer of matzo, cranking out 1.25 million crackers a day. So, essentially, other American producers, like Streit’s, have been playing catch-up from the beginning.

Britta Lokting writing in the Village Voice about murky future of Streit’s, America’s last family-owned matzo factory. After 90 years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Streit’s sold their Rivington Street factory in January without having yet secured a new location. The company is hoping to relocate upstate to a facility in Rockland: they are “frantically working out last-minute logistics” for a September move-in, but the deal has not yet been officially announced.

Read the story