Aga Cookers

The Aga cooker (or stove, in American usage) was invented by the blind Swedish physicist Gustav Dalen in 1924. Dalen was born in Stenstorp in 1869 and became a successful physicist. He initially made his name in lighthouse technology, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1912, the year in which he was blinded in an experiment involving gas cylinders. While convalescing he realized the problems that his wife encountered with a traditional cast-iron, coal-fired closed range. The food needed constant attention, and the stove used fuel inefficiently. He set about redesigning the range in his own kitchen. The result was a continuous-coalburning stove that was clean, efficient, and controllable. It was made of cast iron and insulated with kieselguhr, a heat-resistant padding used in the manufacture of explosives. It featured simmering and roasting ovens, two hot-plates, and a water-heating capacity. The oven temperature was controlled by a thermostat, which opened or closed an air damper.

Launched in 1929 and named after the manufacturing company Svenska Akyiebolaget Gasacumulator (Swedish Gas Accumulator), the Aga was successful because it filled the gap between outdated kitchen ranges and the increasingly efficient gas cookers. They were manufactured under license in Britain and became popular in country areas, especially those without a gas supply. Later models, designed to run on wood, oil, and gas, provided a constant source of warmth and hot water. Hand built and installed, Agas were always expensive and beyond the means of most households in urban and suburban areas.

The Aga changed little over the twentieth century and despite its Swedish origins is seen as an icon of English country living. (Some novels set in the country have been called “Aga-sagas,” and there is an Aga magazine for owners.) They have achieved cult status and are now popular in both town and country. Writing in 1985, Deyan Sudjic called the Aga “the earth goddess of suburbia, the last vestige of the hearth at the center of the home.” The original cream enamel finish has been augmented by a range of colors. They have become symbols of rustic domesticity and urban aspiration. This duality has ensured their popularity, despite the fact that modern gas and electric cookers are now more practical and efficient, and they are distributed worldwide.