300 years of AGA
1709 was the year at AGA’s foundry in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, when Abraham Darby first smelted iron ore with coke – primarily to make cast-iron cooking pots and the innovation triggered the entire Industrial Revolution – hence the foundry is globally acknowledged to be the birthplace of industry. The Group has made cooking pots there for 300 years, progressing into the production of solid fuel fires and cast-iron ranges. The tradition continued after the Second World War with the introduction of the famous AGA and Rayburn cookers, which are only made at Coalbrookdale for both UK and export markets.
The AGA was invented
in 1922 by the Swedish Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Gustaf Dalen, who had lost his sight in both eyes ten years previously as a result of an experiment which went horribly wrong. While convalescing at home, he applied his grasp of physics to create a cooker for his wife, Elma, that would simplify cooking and be the most efficient cooker possible. It was the world’s first heat storage cooker, and was initially imported into the UK before manufacturing in Britain began in 1929 at the AGA Heat Ltd factory
Dalen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1912 for an automatic sun valve invention used in buoys and unmanned lighthouses across the world. AGA is an acronym for Dalen’s Swedish
The 1930s was a progressive decade for AGA. In 1931 a total of 322 AGAs were bought, but just one year later this had risen to a staggering 1,705 – an early sign of the true popularity of a product which has sustained through the generations. ‘The AGA Cook Book’ was first published in the USA in 1934. Written by Sheila Hibben, she described Dalen as “creating a stove that would provide all the conveniences and
economy that modern engineering demands.”
Also in 1934, sixteen members of the Graham Land Expedition Team took an AGA to the Antarctic where, for 3 years, it provided all their cooking needs and kept them warm against the extreme outside temperature of -40 degrees. In the words of expedition leader, John Rymill, “the
Plunged into the depths of war, many found the AGA a life-saver, with its efficient use of fuel and continuous heat source. AGAs found their way into well-known institutions such as Eton College, Harrow School and Cardiff Royal Infirmary on account of their thriftiness. The waiting list increased as production was directed to fulfilling government contracts for the supply of AGAs to canteens in munitions works, hospitals and communal feeding centres. With a twenty-seven month waiting list, AGA Heat Ltd took the decision to open a second manufacturing plant at Ketley in Telford, Shropshire in 1947. By 1949, the need for greater agricultural efficiency had become a priority and it was at this time that a pamphlet entitled ‘Farming Families’ was produced which, six decades later, still provides a valuable insight into
rural British life.
During the 1950s, the AGA was promoted as being at the heart of fine living - and sales reached in excess of 50,000 units per year. The evergreen BBC radio programme ‘The Archers’ first aired in 1950, and featured an AGA in Doris and Dan Archer’s kitchen. So impossible was it to recreate the sound of an AGA door with sound effects, an AGA had to be donated to the studio, and has been a feature of the programme ever since!
1956 saw Aga get colourful. For 34 years the AGA had only been available in cream, and the first colours to unveiled were pale blue, pale green, grey and white and – with the exception of grey – they were an instant hit. By 1957, all production had moved to Ketley and new models featuring chrome-plated lid domes were introduced – a design template for the design of AGA most commonly
in use today.
AGA really got cooking in the sixties with the introduction of the first oil-fired AGA in 1964, followed by the first gas-fired model in 1968. The gas model required the approval of the Gas Board, and passing first time was an early sign of AGAs strength as an innovator. Gone was the scripted AGA lettering contained in an oval and in its place was the black lozenge with white lettering with which we are familiar today. In 1968, Concorde made its maiden flight, the BBC made its first television broadcast in colour, and AGA added red, dark blue, black and yellow enamel. In 1969 AGAs, parent Allied Ironfounders was bought by Glynwed,
a major metal
In comparison to earlier decades, the 1970s were relatively quiet for the AGA in terms of new developments. The decade began with the withdrawal of two colours: yellow and pale green followed four years later by grey, pale blue and black from the colour palette – only to reintroduce black in 1978! The only new model launched in the decade came in 1975 with the arrival of the electric EL2 AGA. Its styling was very different from any previous AGA, and looked more like a conventional cooker, was clothed in sheet metal and came in wide range of vibrant colours. Its appeal was short-lived, however, with just 200 being bought in its 3-year existence.
The Company used this decade to prepare itself for the success which was
AGA began the decade with the celebration of its ‘official’ 50th birthday, marked by a lavish conference and dinner at the royal garden hotel in london, attended by David Ogilvy. In 1981 the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, visited the AGA factory at Ketley and it was in the 1980s that the AGA began to be a feature in Jilly Cooper’s novels.
The first true ‘electric AGA’ was launched in 1985 – the 2-oven EC2. Two years later, the 4-oven EC4 was introduced. With all the traditional attributes of a classic AGA including being made from cast iron, no conventional flue was required as they vented through a small pipe fanned to the outside. It was a significant step forward in heat storage technology and, as the decade drew to a close, 8,000 new owners a year were joining the
Jan Boshall’s good housekeeping book of the 1990s ‘Everyone Should Have One’ described the Aga as being the “epitome of country-kitchen style.” The module was unveiled in 1996 – a conventional electric cooker with traditional AGA styling designed to fit on the left-hand side of the range. Later the same year the companion was introduced – similar to the module but freestanding. By 1998, both were available with gas
The nineties was another colourful decade, with some new colours introduced and others withdrawn. Exports grew rapidly during the nineties, and frequent trips were made to the USA between 1996 and 1999 to raise awareness of the Aga in America. ‘The AGA Book’ established Mary Berry
as the definitive AGA writer, with the Mail on Sunday describing her “to AGA what Pavarotti is to opera.’
Fitting 3 ovens into the space occupied by 2 ovens for the previous eighty years was an engineering breakthrough and a major step forward, adding a baking oven for the first time along with the additional capacity. Launched first in gas and then 13-amp electric, 40% of AGAs sold today have 3 ovens.
The introduction of the 13-amp electric AGA - complete with standard household plug - changed the AGA family forever. It needs no flue, and can go almost anywhere in the kitchen. Nearly half of all AGAs sold today are 13-amp electric models.
AIMS - AGAs Intelligent Management System – is launched and fitted on the 13-amp electric AGA. It ensures that the AGA is up to temperature when you need it for cooking, going into slumber mode when not required and off in your absence. AIMS can even be fitted retrospectively to earlier 13-amp AGAs. Using AIMS can reduce energy usage by up to 25%, and is now available for certain gas models too.
2009 – We take our place in history to celebrate the 300th anniversary of our foundry in Coalbrookdale.
The first place in the world where iron ore was smelted with coke instead of charcoal was our foundary. This was the innovation that started the industrial revolution and literally changed the world. Now a World Heritage Site, the foundry is where every AGA is born. The mission to track down every AGA in the world is launched as part of the 300th celebrations, with many thousands of owners adding their AGA to the ledger at www.agawanted.com and www.thisismyaga.co.uk.
Coalbrookdale and the Industrial Revolution
In 1707 Abraham Darby patented a method of moulding and casting domestic iron cooking pots in sand. To exploit the full potential of his ideas he needed a blast furnace in which to produce his own iron. It was this need that drew him to the Severn and to Coalbrookdale and its well established ironworks.
In 1709 in the steep wooded valley of Coalbrookdale, Abraham Darby smelted iron ore using coke as a fuel instead of charcoal. It was a creative leap that would allow the iron industry to break free from the restrictions of needing resources – water and timber – which were immediately to hand and to expand dramatically, exploiting the seemingly unlimited potential of fossil fuels and steam power. Abraham Darby’s casting techniques for cooking pots were used to make cylinders for steam engines and with that whole new industrial opportunities opened up.
For a time in the 18th Century, Coalbrookdale was the centre of the industrial world. The Ironbridge over the River Severn built by Abraham Darby III, completed in 1781, showed what could be done with cast-iron.
The innovations and cycles of industrial development that radiated out from the events of 1709 have changed how people live, work and communicate across the globe – but cooking and heating the home have always been at the heart of the Coalbrookdale foundry. Today, AGA’s foundry manager is the 32nd successor of Abraham Darby himself.
In 1959 to celebrate the 250th anniversary, Allied Ironfounders, pre cursors to AGA Rangemaster, excavated remains of Darby’s original furnace and established a Museum of Ironfounding. Today the site is cared for by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
The foundry - that is acknowledged as the birthplace of industry - became in 1986 one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Nils Gustaf Dalén
A Swedish Nobel Laureate and industrialist, Nils Gustaf Dalén was the founder of the AGA company and inventor of the AGA stove and the Dalén light. In 1912 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys".
In 1929 he invented the AGA cooker. Most of the testing for the cooker was made in his private kitchen in his Villa Ekbacken that was built when AGA moved to Lidingö in 1912 but that he never actually had a chance too see with his own eyes. His family helped him with the development work, checking temperatures, airflow etc, as the development work proceeded. Despite his blindness, Dalén controlled AGA until his death in 1937. He received over 100 patents during his lifetime.
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