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Prior to the 1920s, the majority of homes used wood or coal as the sole fuel source, but that all changed with an invention from Alice H. Parker. Women of color had very few opportunities during this time, yet she managed to pave the way for central heating, thermostats and zoning.
Much of Parker’s life remains unknown, with the exception of her revolutionary patent. Parker was born in 1895 and raised in Morristown, New Jersey. Despite limitations on education for African-Americans, she attended classes at the Howard University Academy in Washington D.C. and finished the academy with honors.
Parker patented her invention, the residential natural gas furnace, on December 23, 1919. Her design allowed for warm air to enter through ducts in individual rooms of a house. The invention was unique because it replaced coal and wood with natural gas. It is believed that Parker was inspired by the cold winter season in New Jersey and the lack of efficiency from the fireplace.
She believed that homes could be heated safely and more efficiently with natural gas eliminating the need for other sources. This creation was also convenient because it meant that people did not have to go outside to chop or buy wood themselves. Her invention was also safer because it decreased the risk of a house or building catching fire from being left on overnight.
Although Parker’s concept went unproduced, it displayed that natural gas could be used to heat a home efficiently. Similarly to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning zoning systems utilized today, the furnace contained multiple burners to allow occupants to adjust the temperature in each individual room as well.
With no prior training or experience, Alice H. Parker managed to enhance the overall quality of home life, right from her own home. Parker’s success occurred before the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement, making the patent an impressive milestone for both women and African-Americans. Her patent supplied the foundation for the thermostat and heating systems used today. Now, more than 100 years later, society is able to benefit and stay warm because of Alice Parker.