Most people associate the name AGA with good food and fine living. And although it's often thought of as quintessentially British, the Aga actually began life in Sweden. The celebrated cooker found in 750,000 households worldwide was invented by Dr Gustav Dalén, a blind Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Appalled that his wife and their maid had to constantly tend to their old-fashioned range, Dalén set out to design a modern cooker that would look after itself. It's unlikely Dalén could have predicted that his invention would go on to be widely acclaimed as a design icon, but it has. In the year 2000, the BBC published a retrospective of the 20th Century highlighting what it considered to be the top three design icons: first was the Coca-Cola® contour bottle, second was the VW™ Bug and third was the Aga Cooker.
Over the last 80 years Aga has built on that iconic design, creating new products for the day's needs. Additions to the Aga family like dual fuel and electric cooking products, as well as refrigeration, have brought us a long way from Dalen's first cooker in 1922, but close to our heritage.
Over many decades AGA has built a reputation for iconic design, uncompromising quality and award-winning innovation. But what makes us proudest of all is the way AGA products are cherished as part of family life the world over. To fully understand why AGA products inspire so much affection, it's good to go back to the beginning…
It was in 1922 that blind Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr Gustaf Dalén invented the world's first heat-storage cooker. Confined to his home after a failed experiment cost him his sight, Dalén was inspired to create a better, more efficient cooker for his wife, Elma, who constantly had to tend to their old-fashioned range.
Dalén created a cast-iron cooker capable of every kind of cooking simultaneously, through its two large hotplates and two ovens. The now famous AGA was born and by 1929 manufacturing was under way at the AGA Heat Ltd factory in Smethwick.
Did you know?
Dalén was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in developing automated lighthouses, a development which saved countless lives.
The popularity of AGA heat storage cookers grew steadily through the 1930s. In 1931 a total of 322 AGA cookers were bought, with sales soaring to 1,705 just 12 months later. Among the keys to its success were the talents of salesman David Ogilvy, who went on to form the worldwide advertising giant Ogilvy Mather. He was one of the company's first salesmen and his 'The Theory and Practice of Selling an AGA Cooker' has been described by Fortune Magazine as 'the finest instruction manual ever written'.
In 1934 the AGA Cookbook was published by Sheila Hibben, who explained that Dalén had "tackled the problem with a view to creating a stove that would provide all the conveniences and economy that modern engineering demands". The book was published in the USA, proof of the AGA cooker's growing popularity outside Britain.
The picture to the right shows an AGA heat-storage cooker at Garton & King Ltd's Stand at the Devon County Agricultural Associations Show held at Newton Abbot, Devon in 1934. The photo taken by Henry E. Holladay, the last Managing Director of Garton & King Ltd is just one of many from their history shown on their website from 1661 to 1990.
Did you know?
In 1934 16 members of the Graham Land Expedition Team took an AGA cooker to the Antarctic. For the next three years their AGA cooker ensured they ate well and lived in warmth and comfort, despite the thermostat dropping to -40°C outside.
As Europe was gripped by war, an AGA cooker became a life-saver for many families. The British government placed orders for AGA cookers for canteens in munitions works, communal feeding centres and hospitals. Demand increased so dramatically that the waiting period rose to a staggering 27 weeks. A second manufacturing plant was opened in Shropshire.
The Shropshire foundry
In 1947, the majority of manufacturing moved to the landmark Coalbrookdale foundry in Shropshire. This little village in the Ironbridge Gorge was a very fitting home for AGA. It was here in 1709 that Abraham Darby first smelted iron with coke, a move that was to kick-start the Industrial Revolution.
Today, every AGA cooker in still manufactured by hand by skilled craftsmen. Molten iron is poured into casting moulds before every AGA cooker is given multiple coats of vitreous enamel. The process, which takes place over a period of three days, is a world away from the process used by most modern cooker manufacturers - a quick spray paint.
Finally, every AGA component is individually inspected and colour-checked. It is such craftsmanship that helps ensure the life on AGA cooker is measured in decades not years.
Did you know?
When hostilities broke out in 1939, much of AGA Heat Ltd's production capability was diverted to help the war effort.
The 1950s proved
to be another successful decade for the AGA. The cookers had
established itself at the heart of fine living and sales reached
more than 50,000 units per year. Part of this success came from the
introduction of a new range of exciting AGA colors. For 34 years
the classic AGA had been available only in cream, but
in 1956 that all changed. The introduction of the
new AGA De Luxe models in pale blue, pale green, grey and white
proved hugely popular with AGA enthusiasts.
All production had moved to Coalbrookdale by 1957, where further new models were being introduced featuring chrome-plated lid domes.
Did you know?
The long-running BBC Radio 4 soap opera 'The Archers' featured an AGA in Doris and Dan Archer's kitchen. Because of the difficulty of recreating the authentic sound of an AGA door, a real AGA door had to be built in to the studio.
The times they are a-changing. The 1960s saw a decline in the use of solid fuel and the move to more convenient energy sources, such as gas and electricity.
The first oil-fired cooker was introduced in 1964, followed by the launch of the first gas model in 1968. These products were the first to use the iconic black lozenge logo - which is still used to this day. In 1968, reflecting fashions of the time, the AGA color palette was further extended to include dark blue, red, yellow and black enamel.
The 1970s was a decade of transition for the AGA company as the focus shifted to innovation and the challenge of developing a new wave of AGA cookers to meet the demands of the next generation of families.
Only one new model appeared during this decade, the EL2 AGA cooker in 1975. Its design moved away from any previous AGA heat-storage cooker and looked more like a conventional cooker - built in sheet metal and available in a wide range of colors.
The decade started in style with AGA's 50th anniversary celebration. A lavish birthday party was thrown at the Royal Garden Hotel in London and was attended by advertizing guru and lifetime AGA supporter David Ogilvy. The company continued to flourish, and its status as something of a national institution was recognised when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the Coalbrookdale foundry in 1981.
Then, in 1985, AGA launched a landmark model - the first electric AGA range cooker, with the 2-oven EC2 followed two years later by the 4-oven EC4. These new models retained all the traditional features for which AGA cookers were renowned, but for the first time no flue was required as the cookers vented through a small pipe fanned to the outside.
By the end of the decade, more than 8,000 new owners were joining the AGA family each year.
Did you know?
In the 1980s the AGA cooker began to feature in romance novels by authors such as Jilly Cooper. The move saw the use of the term 'AGA sagas'.
Jan Boshall's good housekeeping book of the 1990s 'Everyone Should Have One' described the AGA heat-storage cooker 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 hob options.
The nineties was another colorful decade, with some new colors 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 AGA products 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.'
In 2003 fitting a 3-oven AGA into the space occupied by a 2-oven AGA 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 AGA heat-storage cookers sold today have 3-ovens.
The introduction of the 13-amp electric AGA in 2004 - 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 AGA range cookers sold today are 13-amp electric models.
2007 saw the launch of AIMS, the AGA Intelligent Management System which was fitted onto 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 AGA cookers. Using AIMS can reduce energy usage and is now available for selected gas models too.
In 2009 the company celebrated the 300th anniversary of our foundry in Coalbrookdale. The first place in the world where iron ore was smelted with coke instead of charcoal. 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 heat-storage cooker is born. The mission to track down every AGA range cooker in the world was launched as part of the 300th celebrations.