The Aga range cooker is one of the most treasured symbols of a traditional countryside house, combining an effective range oven with a cosy warmth for heating tasks such as drying clothes.
But how did this humble cooker become such an iconic part of people’s homes? We trace back the Aga range cooker’s roots to find out about its popularity and why it’s so beloved in homes across Britain.
The Aga range cooker was invented by Dr. Gustav Dalen of Sweden. After being injured in an accident and spending more time at home with his wife he realised how tricky a housewife’s job is cooking on a traditional cooker. Rather than helping his wife (!), he spent years developing a new easier-to-use range cooker, which became the first version of the Aga range cooker.
Despite being invented in Sweden, this cooker was soon adopted by the British, first being introduced in England in 1929. It was manufactured in Britain until 2017.
The 1930s were when the Aga range cooker rapidly gained in popularity, primarily in Britain. In 1931, only 322 cookers were sold worldwide, but this rose to 1,705 only 12 months later.
The cookers were seen more and more in grand country homes, becoming synonymous with the wealthy middle class across Britain.
A sales brochure from the mid-1930s listed celebrity owners such as HRH Princess Beatrice, HRH Princess Alice, the Earl of Buckinghamshire and the Earl Nelson, the true celebrities of the age!
The popularity even lead to the release of cook books written specifically for Aga range cookers - with 'Good Food on the AGA' by Ambrose Heath being released in the 1930s.
The Aga range cooker played an important role in keeping families warm and fed during World War II - a time when traditional heating was less reliable. The British government even utilised the Aga range cooker for munitions factories, hospitals and war-time food centres.
Demand for the Aga range cooker increased rapidly during wartime, its lead time was 27 weeks from being ordered. The government requirements for Aga range cookers led to the company running an advertisement for home-owners that read "Why must I wait for Aga? Because war services cannot wait”.
This increase in demand lead to the opening of a second foundry to manufacture the cooker – the historic Coalbrookdale Foundry, a key mass-ironmaking plan vital to Britain’s industrial revolution dating back from 1709. The cooker was manufactured here until 2017.
In the 1950s, a new wave of colours were introduced - pale blue, pale green, grey and white were introduced to bring the Aga range cooker to life, previously it had only been available in cream.
Before the 1960s, Aga range cookers had been primarily coal-fired, but the switch to more efficient fuel types was the key change in the 1960s. Firstly came the oil-fired Aga range cooker, with the gas cooker following hot on its heels in 1968.
In the 1970s, the introduction of a new ‘Deluxe’ Aga range cooker, still one of the most popular models in use today due to its versatility and longevity.
In the 1980s, the first electric Aga range cooker which got rid of the need for the flue as it only requires a small pipe to fan the outside.
In the 1990s, the term ‘Aga Saga’ is coined to describe a genre of fiction based in British upper-middle-class society.
In 2009, the Telegraph newspaper ran a survey to find the oldest Aga range cooker still in use, with the oldest Aga range cooker belonging to the Hett family of Sussex amazingly being installed in 1932 and still in use 77 years later!