History of a
For over a century, AGA has built a reputation for iconic design, uncompromising quality and award-winning innovation. But what makes us proudest of all is how AGA is cherished as part of a family life the world over. To full understand why AGA products inspire so much affection, take a look back at our beginning. We draw on a long history, stretching back over 200 years starting at our Royal Leamington Spa factory.
In 1803 John Flavel moved his operation to Leamington Spa. Generations of the Flavel family would become civic leaders in the town, while the factory itself became a major local employer. Then in 1833 the mighty Eagle Foundry was built. The new foundry enabled John's son, William, to expand and develop his epoch-making 1830 invention, the Kitchener range cooker.
Manufactured in cast iron and heated by solid fuel, the Kitchener could be used to boil, roast, bake, and warm - all from the same heat source. It was hailed as one of the greatest domestic institutions of the 19th Century.
Following the First World War, developments in gas and electricity paved the way for the next generation of range cookers, particularly AGA as we know it today.
In 1922, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Gustaf Dalen invented the AGA. Confined to his home after an experiment cost him his sight, Dalen became aware of his wife's constant tending to the stove. He was determined to create an easier, more efficient cooking appliance guaranteed to create consistent results and capable of every culinary technique. And he did. The AGA range cooker was born.
Much of the historic cast iron technology from Kitchener was adopted by AGA as the sister company, passing to Alistar Darby's foundry at Coalbrookdale.
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.
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 centers 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 is 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 color-checked. It is such craftsmanship that helps ensure the life on AGA cooker is measured in decades not years.
The 1950s proved to be another successful decade for the AGA. The cooker 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.
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 advertising guru and lifetime AGA supporter David Ogilvy. The company continued to flourish, and its status as something of a national institution was recognized 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.
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.