The Aga Cooker is the first heat-storage cooker in the world in which you can cook many meals at the same time, invented by the Swedish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr Gustav Dalén in 1922. It is an icon of Britain because it has been manufactured in Coalbrookdale (south of Manchester) for a long time, which was an important place in the Industrial Revolution, and many craftsmen are still working there. A BBC survey in 2000 designated the AGA Cast Iron Range as one of the three design icons of the 20th century.
Here is how the story of the Aga began. In 1922, the physicist Dr Gustav Dalén had the idea of creating a new type of range to help his wife in the kitchen. It was soon manufactured in Smethwick (Britain). From the 1930s onwards, the popularity of the Aga Cooker expanded so much that it soon conquered the USA. It became a symbol of modernism. During the war, the British government ordered Aga Cookers to help feed hospitals and soldiers. A second factory opened in Shropshire. In the 1950s, all the production was moved to Coalbrookdale, which started a new decade of success, especially thanks to the new models and colours that were then introduced. The 1960s mark a period of fewer demands because of the increasing popularity of gas and electricity, whereas Aga cookers still used solid fuel. In the 70s, the Aga Rangemaster Group developed new colours and models of cookers. In the 1980s, the 50th anniversary of the brand was celebrated, with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visiting the factory in Coalbrookdale. The Aga Cooker continued to develop, and its popularity was by then so widespread that it even entered literature, with the so-called ‘Aga-sagas’. These are romance novels in which Aga Cookers are described and used by the characters. In 1985, the first electric model was launched. In the 90s, Jan Bochall, a housekeeping writer, described the Aga Cooker as the “epitome of country-kitchen style”1. Mary Berry, a famous British cook and food writer, who presents cook shows on BBC 2, wrote The Aga Book. It is a guide book on how an Aga Cooker works. In 2011, the first model that can be switched on and off was introduced, as opposed to the older ones which had to be kept on.
Everybody knows an Aga Cooker is very expensive – the cheapest ones cost £3,000 –, but the high price is counterbalanced by the machine’s many advantages. First, the wide range of colours and models allows the Aga Cooker to fit in a lot of different kitchens. Moreover, it can cook every kind of food in a gentle way, so that it keeps its flavour and good taste, and in large quantities so it is perfect for family meals. The Aga Cooker becomes part of your home life and you get attached to it (and your pets too). Plus an Aga can also be used to warm the room and to dry clothes. Eventually, its most important advantage is the investment, because even though it is expensive the Aga Cooker is programmed to last a lifetime. If some used to complain about the high gas bill, because the Aga had to be kept on constantly, it is no longer relevant thanks to the new model with an on/off switch. In addition, it is made of 70 % of recycled materials, and once disused it can be recycled again.
However, the Aga Cooker also has loads of drawbacks. One is the fact that you cannot really choose the heat at which you cook. It also causes a lot of environmental damage, e.g. the annual carbon footprint of a 2-oven gas Aga is two thirds that of an entire average British house. But the main disadvantage is the high price, which still increases with the extra costs, such as the installation and possible repairs.
In conclusion, despite the price problem, the Aga Cooker remains an iconic heritage of Britain because of its history and its popularity.
Martine Ernst, Emma Joveneau, Noa Nicolaï