AGA is one of the well-known Swedish “genius companies” – companies that used unique technological inventions to grow to become worldwide.AGA’s roots date back to 1904 and are based on the technically ingenious inventions of one man – Gustaf Dalén - who was not only one of Sweden’s most important Nobel Laureates, but also the only Laureate to create an industrial group.
The AGA industrial company (Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator) was founded in 1904. Initially AGA mainly focused on acetylene gas for railway lighting. Soon the company employed inventive genius Gustaf Dalén as chief engineer and workshop manager whose inventions enabled AGA to grow rapidly. It was the company’s inventions within lighthouse technology - the flashing beacon in 1905, the AGA compound in 1906, the sun valve and Dalén mixer in 1907 - which were to dictate the company's future.
By 1909 Dalén was president for the company. 1912 Gustaf Dalén was badly injured in an explosion which left him blind for life. He was still convalescing when the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences awarded him the Nobel Prize in Physics for his “inventions of self-operating regulators, which in combination with gas accumulators can be used to light lighthouses and light buoys." He never regained his sight but he remained as the company's president for another 25 years, until his death 1937.
During the late 1960s AGA began to concentrate on the gas sector. Since 2000 AGA is part of The Linde Group, a world-leading gases and engineering company with almost 62,000 employees in around 100 countries.
Lighthouse - AGA's true core business until the 1980’s
Lighthouses were AGA´s true core business until the beginning of the 1980s. This product area still lives on through Pharos Marine/Automatic Power, today the world leader in navigational aids. Gustaf Dalén’s most famous invention was probably the sun valve. It consists of a central, blackened, light absorbing metal rod surrounded by three gilt light-reflecting metal rods. When dawn breaks the blackened rod absorbs light energy and acquires a slightly higher temperature than the shiny rods. It becomes slightly longer than the shiny ones triggering a device which cuts off the gas and switches off the lighthouse light.
A welding pioneer in Sweden
In 1902 Gustaf Dalén demonstrated welding using acetylene and oxygen for the first time in Sweden at the Finnboda shipyard. In 1910 AGA carried out extensive trials using steel welding wire. In 1924 AGA designed an orbital welding machine which could weld up to 15 radiators simultaneously. Today, AGA continues to play a major role in the development of welding and cutting industrial techniques.
The company has been providing training in gas welding at its Swedish workshops for many years. Even by 1937, when the training was transferred to an engineering school with 36 students, AGA had already taught around 1,500 welding students.
AGA cooker icon lives on
Between 1924 and 1929 Gustaf Dalén developed a heat efficient cooker which could burn unattended for 24 hours. The AGA cooker works on the blue-flame principle, i.e. smoke free combustion and its heating efficiency is still unbeatable. By 1934 it was being sold worldwide and was later manufactured in some ten countries. In 1957, faced with competition from electric cookers, AGA discontinued its production.
The UK company Rangemaster Group PLC still manufactures the AGA cooker today. In 1931 the cooker cost US$ 130; these days you pay at least EUR 3,000. But the AGA is still an icon among cookers and is popular with a number of celebrities including Sharon Stone, Kate Winslet and Jamie Oliver.
Mobile phones, built-in loudspeaker and color TV
Predecessor to the mobile phone
Gustaf Dalén discovered the possibility of using radio as a navigational aid at an early stage. AGA’s first experiments with radio transmissions from aircraft were carried out in 1915 and 1916, when experiments were also made with direction finders to determine the direction to these airborne radio transmitters. During the early 1940s AGA began to focus heavily on mobile radio, then known as police or taxi radio. These early systems had a range of thirty to sixty kilometers. AGA continued to develop these systems until 1974 when they were sold to Sonab.
First in Europe with a built-in loudspeaker - In 1919 AGA, Asea and LM Ericsson formed Svenska Radio AB to concentrate on Swedish research and development within radio technology. AGA radios and gramophones became widely established in the consumer market. In 1927 AGA presented the first mains-powered radio receiver in Europe with a built-in loudspeaker.
In 1928 AGA acquired Baltic Radio AB and the company merged with AGA's radio department to form AGA-Baltic AB. The company became responsible for the development and sales of radios, other home electronics, sound film equipment and radio navigation systems.
One of first in Europe with colour TV
The first test transmissions for Swedish television were conducted in Stockholm in 1948. In 1952 AGA presented its first television set with the company's own colour TV system based on an American patent. This made AGA one of the first European companies to manufacture colour TV sets. But when Philips' TV system became the European standard, AGA's system was knocked out of the game. In 1954 AGA started to manufacture black-and-white television sets in Gävle, Sweden. However, the AGA name disappeared from radios and TVs in the early 1970s when these operations were sold to Svenska Philips.
Heart-lung machines and other technologies
Europe’s first functioning heart-lung machine
AGA has also produced a wide range of medical equipment over the years. The Spiropulsator, a combined anaesthetic apparatus and respirator, was launched in 1934. The AGA Sedator - launched in 1937 - provided pain relief using nitrous oxide during childbirth. In 1952-54, after ten years of research and experiments, AGA built Europe's first, and the world's second, functioning heart-lung machine for operations on a heart drained of blood. The first operation on a human was performed in 1954. The AutoChemist automatic laboratory was launched by AGA in 1966. It was an automatic analyser and could perform 3,000 analyses an hour, which previously was conducted by 100 laboratory employees.
Mastermind of two key technologies
In 1965 AGA developed Thermovision, an infrared camera system which provides a visible image of an object’s infrared light. Today this technology is part of FLIR Systems, Inc.The Geodimeter (Geodetic Distance Metre) developed in 1953, was originally an electro-optical length gauge. AGA sold this technology to Trimble which focuses on positioning solutions such as GPS.