Rayburn Development

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The Rayburn Range Cooker is Born

Rayburn Development: The same remarkable team that made the AGA into the iconic cooker was behind the Rayburn and
Stanley cooker/boiler and woodburning stoves. The design and engineering was largely completed in the 1930s resulting in the Otto stove being introduced in 1937. The team then reconvened in 1945 to finish the set and launch the Rayburn cooker. The famed designers of the Routemaster and Greyhound buses, as well as of the Coca-Cola bottle all worked on the creation of the Rayburn. They helped change the lives of many British householders and influence the spread of the products throughout the Commonwealth
As energy costs and independence have become major issues once more AGA has
again put together an outstanding engineering team to create a new generation
of efficient contemporary products - following on from the established home
heating heritage. The products are in an exciting and important tradition of social
and design history. This is their heart-warming story.
In The Beginning
Abraham Darby first smelted iron ore with coke in 1709 under a patent
from Queen Anne to make cast iron cooking pots.
The process he developed triggered the Industrial Revolution and his
foundry in Coalbrookdale is now part of a World Heritage Site. And it is
where AGA and Rayburn cookers are made today. Abraham Darby’s son
and grandson who built the first iron bridge across the River Severn ran the
Coalbrookdale Company which was a dominant 18th and 19th Century
force in cast iron products.
Statues and gates of cast iron made in Coalbrookdale were features of
the Great Exhibition of 1851 and are now in Kensington Gardens in London.
As the company expanded, it became part of Allied Ironfounders Ltd, a group of
manufacturing businesses including the Dobbie Forbes foundry in Falkirk in
Central Scotland. In 1935 it acquired AGA Heat Ltd, a start up business selling a
new type of radiant heat cooker which challenged its existing products and its own
new product the ‘Thermecon’. The acquisition brought W.T.Wren into the Group.
Wren combined in-house and external engineering and design skills that not only
made the AGA cooker into an iconic product but also created, from scratch, a
complete new generation of cookers, water heaters and stoves - adding a new
dimension to Allied Ironfounders’ woodburning traditions
Thanks to our rich collection of primary sources – including the board minute
books of ‘AGA Heat’ and ‘Allied Ironfounders’ - we appreciate the creative flair
and dedication of the people behind the creation of the range of heating products.
W.T.Wren became director of Allied Ironfounders heating products in 1935 at
the age of 35. The acquisition of AGA Heat had been controversial – with two
directors voting against it. Wren made clear he did not rate the technology of the
‘Thermecon’, the rival line to the AGA made in Falkirk. He wanted higher design
and engineering standards and this became a key business driver. A research and
development department was set up in Smethwick to address ‘Hard fuel in the
modern home’.
W.T.Wren set up one of the most formidable multi-disciplinary teams ever
seen in British Industrial history to re-launch the ‘New Standard AGA’ in
1935 and then to design a new product portfolio of heating products.
W.T.Wren became Allied Ironfounders
sales director in 1937 as well as a managing director of AGA Heat. He asked
his trusted associates Francis and David Ogilvy, marketing and sales experts, to
write an analysis of the sales strategies of the Group. Reviewing the critique in
1962 when he ran Ogilvy and Mather and was King of Madison Avenue, David
Ogilvy concluded it showed two things: “At 25 I was remarkably clever and I have
learnt nothing new in the last 27 years.”
Wren’s key industrial contact was with the designer, Raymond Loewy. Loewy was
a Frenchman who had emigrated to the USA in 1919 and by the 1930s was an
established industrial designer. He set up a London office with Allied Ironfounders
as the key account, employing Douglas Scott and Carl Otto. They were
commissioned to work with AGA Heat on the product range alongside in-house
engineer Charles Scott. It took time to gain the exacting standards expected for
the cookers.
The Otto stove, however, was ready in 1937. The cooker launches were then
delayed by the war but when the team came back together, the Rayburn was a
massive success.
Raymond Loewy’s design flair was seen as crucial by Wren. The Rayburn could not
be finished until Loewy had returned to the UK in 1945. Loewy became the single
most significant figure in industrial design in the USA in the 20th Century being
responsible for the Greyhound bus, Shell, Exxon and BP logos and the interiors of
the Saturn rocket.
20 Jan
Douglas Scott was devoted to his work on the Rayburn where he showed his design and
manufacturing skills. He then went on to design the Routemaster bus.
Carl Otto specialised in the stoves – the Otto stove being named after him. He later
worked on cars for Standard Auto, the renowned Coca-
Cola bottle, the Schick electric razor and the Edison Typewriter.
The Board meetings ofAGA Heat in the late 1930s frequently discussed the new ‘X’ Cooker then under development. It provided a different line to the ever more successful AGA cooker,
offering a cooker / boiler workhorse product. Work was largely finished by the start of the war and was then put on hold as Allied Ironfounders’ factories were needed for munitions work.
In 1945 the product was ready and a launch plan was needed. This new cooker had
no name - indeed, naming it ‘AGA’ was considered. Mather and Crowther, Ogilvy’s
advertising agency, were reappointed.
There had been a backlash against their trenchant views in ‘Critical Survey’ and in
1938 they were dropped as agents bacause of a dispute over authorising invoices
and David moved to the USA. He and Francis Ogilvy had dominated the
marketing of the AGA cooker with David producing ‘The Theory and Practice of
Selling the AGA Cooker’. Led in UK by Francis the plan was to tap into the themes
of careful use of resources, food quality and healthy living.
Francis Ogilvy had been working for Winston Churchill as a memo and speech
writer. He had also worked pre-war with Ambrose Heath, the AGA food writer
and gastronomical adviser had who anchored the radio programme ‘The Home
Front’. This programme majored on the Government’s ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign.
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