Gustaf Dalén was a Swedish Nobel Laureate who invented automatic regulators, AGA cooker and the Dalén light, among others. An engineer cum industrialist, he was also the founder of the AGA company, an industrial gas company that was later integrated into Linde AG. Best remembered as the inventor of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys, he became known as "the benefactor of sailors." He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1912 for this work. Born as the son of a farmer, he joined a School of Agriculture to study dairy farming as a young man. He invented a milk-fat tester to measure the quality of the milk which he showed to the prominent inventor Gustaf de Laval who advised Dalén to pursue a career in engineering. He thus proceeded to study engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology, and later at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He made many inventions over the course of his engineering career and performed vital work while engaged with the Gas Accumulator Company, which marketed acetylene gas. At that period, there was a growing need for maritime communication facilities and his invention of what came to be known as the Dalén light revolutionized maritime navigation by improving the effectiveness of lighthouses.
- Nils Gustaf Dalén was born on 30 November 1869, in Stenstorp, Västergötland, Sweden into a farming family as one of the five children of Anders Johannson and his wife, Lovisa Andersdotter Dalén. All of the children adopted their mother's maiden name.He displayed an aptitude for inventing from a young age. As a young boy, he developed an automatic threshing machine powered by an old spinning wheel.After his preliminary education, he entered a School of Agriculture to study dairy farming. During this time he also worked on the family farm which he expanded to include a market garden and a dairy.He invented a milk-fat tester to measure the quality of milk in 1892. He showed this invention to the prominent inventor Gustaf de Laval who recognized the young man’s potential and advised him to pursue a career in engineering.After selling his farm, Dalén enrolled at the Chalmer's Institute of Technology in Göteborg and graduated as an engineer in 1896. Following this he spent a year in Zurich, Switzerland, studying at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.Career
- He returned to Sweden on the completion of his studies and worked at the de Laval Steam Turbine Company in Stockholm for a short period of time. There he helped develop hot air turbines, compressors, and air pumps.He collaborated with a former classmate Henrik Celsning to form a partnership in 1900. Through this firm the duo marketed their inventions, one of the major ones being the creation of the Brilliant gasworks, which they sold to the town of Ängelholm.In 1901, he was appointed as the Technical Chief of the Svenska Karbid- och Acetylen A.B. (Swedish Carbide and Acetylene, Ltd.). A few years later, he accepted the position of Chief Engineer at the Gas Accumulator Company (manufacturer and distributor of acetylene) in 1906.In 1909, the company was renamed Svenska Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator (AGA) and Dalén was promoted to the position of Managing Director. During this period, Sweden was experiencing an increasing need for better maritime communication methods. The lighthouse technologies available at that time were not up to the mark and Dalén began his work on developing automatic flashing beacons for lighthouses.Over the course of his work, he experimented with acetylene, an extremely explosive hydrocarbon gas that could be used as a fuel in lighthouse illuminations. Using this new fuel, he developed the Dalén light which also made use of another one of his inventions, the sun valve. On the basis of his works, AGA started producing lighthouse equipment that worked without any type of electric supply and was thus extremely reliable.In 1922, he patented his invention, the AGA cooker, which he had developed with the help of his wife and family over the past few years. The cookers were first imported to Britain in 1929 where they enjoyed great popularity. A highly prolific inventor, Dalén received over 100 patents during his lifetime.Major Works
- Gustaf Dalén revolutionized maritime navigation with his contributions to lighthouse technology. His inventions, the sun valve and the Dalén light, enabled the production of highly efficient and reliable lighthouse equipment that worked without any type of electric supply.Awards & Achievements
- Gustaf Dalén was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1912 "for his invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys".He was made a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences in 1913, and the Academy of Science and Engineering in 1919. He also received the Morehead Medal of the International Acetylene Association.Personal Life & Legacy
- Gustaf Dalén married his childhood sweetheart, Elma Persson, in 1901. They had four children, two daughters and two sons.He was blinded in an acetylene explosion during an experiment in 1912. However, he did not let his disability interfere with his scientific pursuits and remained active in research till the end of his life.He suffered from cancer towards the end of his life and died on 9 December 1937, at the age of 68.
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