Nils Gustaf Dalén
Nils Gustaf Dalén, Swedish physicist and winner of the 1912 Nobel Prize for Physics.
This image is in Public Domain -- Photo taken by Atelier Jaeger?
¹Nils Gustaf Dalén (1869-1937) was born at Stenstorp in Skaraborg, Sweden on November
30, 1869, the son of a farmer. After his preliminary education, he entered
a School of Agriculture to study dairy farming, but he was later advised by
Gustaf de Laval, (²the foremost Swedish inventor of the day) who recognized his natural gift for mechanics,
to seek a technical education. He prepared himself for the Chalmers
Institute at Gothenburg and gained admission in 1892. He graduated as an
engineer in 1896.
¹Dalén's inventiveness first showed in his early days on his father's
farm when he built a threshing machine powered by an old spinning wheel.
He contrived a device to indicate the butterfat content of milk and thereby
made his contact with de Laval. On completion of his advanced education,
he worked on the construction of a hot-air turbine and related air
compressors and pumps. He also invented a pasteurization apparatus and a
²Dalén introduced welding using acetylene gas in Sweden in 1902.
Dalén formed the company Dalén & Celsing together with his wealthy fellow
student Henrik Celsing. At the same time, he worked for Svenska Carbid &
Acetylen (later to become AGA).
²In 1905 when the Pilotage Service needed a new apparatus which
could both save the expensive acetylene gas in lighthouses and provide
beacons of varying character, Dalén's experiments resulted in the flashing
apparatus. It only uses one-tenth as much gas as its predecessor and the
light signals can be varied. In 1907 he invented the ingenious sun valve
which automatically switches on lighthouse beacons when darkness falls
and switches them off at dawn.
¹ His subsequent invention of the sun-valve, which
causes a beacon to light automatically at dusk and extinguish itself at dawn,
enabled lighthouses to function perfectly and unattended for periods of up
to a year. His invention of cylinder filled with a porous mass of asbestos and
diatomaceous earth for storage of acetylene reduced considerably the
hazards in handling this material and its use in welding became safe. He also
invented a mixer for providing a constant and correct balance of gas and
air for use in the incandescent mantle and a device for removing broken
mantles and replacing them by new ones.
² He had already developed a special porous compound which minimizes the risk of
explosions in gas tubes (the AGA compound, 1906)
and spurred on by his success Dalén continued to experiment.He
became president of AGA in 1909.
The unmanned, reliable, low-energy AGA lighthouse which improved safety
at sea was an immediate international success.
¹In 1912, whilst testing safety devices on cylinders of acetylene in an
outdoor location, and when satisfactory safety precautions had been taken,
a sudden explosion seriously injured Dalén and caused the loss of his
eyesight. He recovered from his other injuries and overcoming his great
incapacity, continued his researches. He was awarded the contract for
lighting the Panama Canal and later turned to the field of thermal technics
to invent a stove, now in universal use, which maintains cooking heat for 24
hours using only eight pounds of coal.
This image is in Public Domain
photo taken 1926, after accident
²In February 1913 he was back among AGA's management and was to
remain the company's president for another 25 years. The telephone,
radio, reading out loud, skilled employees and a phenomenal memory enabled
him to continue to create and lead the company successfully. Though he
himself could no longer travel, AGA could conquer the world market. There
are also countless stories about how his four children helped their blind,
but determined, father to develop the AGA cooker. A coal-fueled, low
energy cooker which could burn for 24 hours without attention. The
was viewed as an odd product by the company but was an enormous export
success. Launched in 1929, the cooker was Daléns last major invention to
reach a wide public. In all he had almost 100 patents pending during his
²He was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics. The citation reads:
"For his inventions of self-operating regulators which in combination with gas
accumulators can be used to light lighthouses and light buoys."
¹The Nobel Prize may have been his finest award but their were more, among
them the distinctions conferred upon Dalén are:
•In 1913 membership of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences.
•In 1918 he was made an honorary doctor at Lund University.
•In 1919 membership in the Academy of Science and Engineering.
²•He received both the Nordstjärne Order and the Wasa Order.
•Received the Morehead Medal of the International Acetylene Association.
• He took part in debates at the National Society of
•Served on the Lidingö City Council for almost twenty years.
¹Dalén married Elma Persson in 1901. They had two sons and two
daughters. Their eldest son, Gunnar, qualified as an engineer and followed
his father as a Director of AGA; their younger son, Anders, became a
Doctor of Medicine; Gustaf's brother Albin, a famous ophthalmologist,
was a Professor at the Caroline Institute.
¹Dalén died on December 9, 1937, in his villa at Lidingö
(he was active as company leader until his death).
--click image for larger view --
Villa Ekbacken, the private residence for the Dalén family, built in 1912
close to AGA production plant.
Today the residence for Canada's ambassador in Sweden.
The copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license:
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²In 1954, the same year as the AGA company celebrated its 50th
anniversary, Gösta Folke directed "Victory in the Darkness" a film about
Gustaf Dalén, based on Erik Wästberg's biography "Gustaf Dalén - a great
¹This info is from:
Nobel Prize. Org
²This info is from:
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