Alice H. Parker
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Alice H. Parker (1895-1920) was an African American inventor known for her contribution to the heating furnace. She invented a furnace that supplied central heating for homes and entire buildings. Parker was from Morristown, New Jersey. She died in 1920 as a result of a heat stroke.
Alice's patent for heating furnace was filed in 1919, not long after World War I. During the early 20th century, women had very limited opportunities, let alone women of color; racial and sexual discrimination was still prevalent. At the time, Parker receiving a patent for her invention as both a woman and an African American was truly unusual and an outstanding achievement for her and a new inspired generation of African American women.
The main point that Parker solved was staying warm in the winter time without having to chop wood and make a fire. Her invention also has better circulation of heat versus the standard fireplace. Parkers central heating furnace was patented on December 23, 1919. Her heating furnace was different from the other furnaces around at that time. People no longer needed to stock and burn wood, making this invention safer and less time consuming. Her design had air ducts that allowed heat to spread throughout the structure. Parker's invention included a multiple burner system and used natural gas. What made it especially unique is that it was like later zone heating, where the temperature could be moderated in different areas of a building.
Parkers invention also decreased the risk of house or building fires that heating units posed by eliminating the need to leave a burning fireplace on throughout the night.
Alice did not actually invent the gas furnace but she was eligible to get a patent on her heating system because it used independently controlled units that allowed the user to control the amount of heat in different areas of the building.
Even though this invention solved a lot of problems, it also created some. The main issue was that the furnace is very flammable and can catch on fire if something went wrong. Although unlikely, the heating tank can actually explode. This invention could also burn you if you accidentally touched the vent where heat is exported. Because of this problem her exact design was never implemented due to these safety issues with the regulation of heat flow.
Starting in 1885, coal was used more to burn than wood. Before then, most households depended on burning wood for their fireplaces and stoves. Parker’s invention was further improved in 1935 by scientists who created forced convection wall heaters that use a coal furnace, electric fan, and ductwork throughout a home. Nowadays we use a thermostat and a forced air furnace in our homes which can be attributed to Alice’s design and invention of the central heating furnace.The NJ Chamber named its “Women Leaders in Innovation” award after her. It can be noted that without Parker’s invention of the central heating furnace we could be heating our houses in a very different way. Today, Parker does not get enough credit as an inventor of something that everyone uses today and is vital to our modern day life.
Not much else is known about Parker's life. A review of census data available from that time suggests she was born in Virginia, and later moved to New Jersey. She was employed as a live-in cook in Morristown, NJ and her husband was the butler.[unreliable source?]
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