The History of AGA – Part 1, a Nobel Prize winning blind man

Watching the movie ‘The History Boys‘ by Alan Bennett a few things cropped into my mind namely the remarkable history of AGA cookers.  Invented by a blind chap in Sweden in 1922. Part one of my little history of the AGA series that will be highlighted over the next few ‘every other’ Wednesdays tells a little of the background of this thoroughly intriguing story of how a blind Swedish man started a global culinary change, defined Britishness and, naturally, it’s a spy story too.


Classic lines in movies are often quoted in our flat in Peckham.  “Your terrible Muriel” from the cult classicMuriel’s Weddingthe story of a girl with no hope in life except her collection of ABBA singles living in the town of Porpoise Spit, Australia often gets the response “It’s Mariel” and “we bought this budget Barbie camper from three Swedish men called Lars, Lars and Lars” from the spectacular ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ all ring true for camp hilarity when cooking dinner.  You can never cook on your own when you have an AGA as everyone migrates to the AGA to talk.   However, literature lines of the grown up variety may bring fewer laughs but tell us more about the reality of life as in the ‘History Boys’ –  “Most of the stuff in poetry hasn’t happend to us yet. – Learn it now and you will known it in the future when it does” was a classic line from the movie, and indeed very true, what I was more taken by was the female history teacher saying that her job was to “recall what failing men had done“.  However, AGA is not a story about failure, rather about a man who went on through adversity, who was resilient, to develop the best cooker in the world, and sadly, he never got to see it.  As life has taught me, keep going, don’t forget your history or you are destined to repeat it.

Doctor Gustaf Dahlén invented many things.  Among them a milk fat tester, welding technology, medical equipment, railway and traffic signals, an AGA car, the automated lighthouse and the AGA cooker itself.  During his lifetime he had over 100 patients to his name.  He was busy.

In 1909 he was managing director of a company called Svenska Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator, known as ‘AGA’ in Sweden.  AGA developed lighthouses using Dalén’s products and the ‘Dalén Light‘ which had a ‘sun valve‘ that allowed light only to be visible at night.  It worked by a pilot light inside a sealed glass chamber, around this were black metal rods that during the day expanded with the heat of the sun and shut off the gas supply underneath them.  At night as they cooled they contracted and the gas came out and was lit by the pilot light.  Some are still in existence, in fact in 1980 one was was discovered that had not been maintained since 1912 when it was initially set up and was still working.  Just like the AGA cooker, indeed, the work of Dalén was build to last.  These AGA Lighthouses covered the entire Panama Canal and have been used as far away as Zanzibar.

In 1912 Dalén was blinded in an acetylene explosion during a test for his Gasaccumulator. In fact he nearly died, however Doctors (not Dr Thomas on this occasion, he was not born yet) saved his life but he never regained his sight.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work and while convalescing and could not see, he developed the AGA cooker.  You see it is claimed his wife was ‘exhausted by cooking‘ and although blind, he set out to develop a new stove that was capable of a range of culinary techniques and was easy to use.  I assure you, there is nothing that the AGA can not cook, as I have proved, it is even perfect for the Chinese market too.  And that’s a wee bit more complex than the Western concept of ‘sweet and sour‘!

So when the lady teacher in the ‘History Boys‘ talks about teaching man’s failings, perhaps she got it a bit wrong.  This man used his failings to create something much more  special, something that would enhance family life and become a friend in the home and cook better than any other cooker.  It’s because of a blind man that Dr Thomas and I have Angus the AGA City60.  Lesson for today, if you fail as a man and it all goes wrong, keep going, because just like Dr Dalén you could change the world.  His Nobel Prize may have been for the lighthouse, but the spirit of the Nobel Prize is to ‘benefit humanity‘, Dr Dalén, your spirit lives on in our flat in Peckham (the Posh Part) as your work has certainly benefited humanity due to the perseverance, determination and leadership you brought through major personal adversity.  Thank you.  It’s no wonder a movie was made about Dr Dalén called ‘Victory in the Darkness‘.

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