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With Black History Month here, it’s imperative to spotlight Black individuals who influenced the world. Since some parts of the world are abiding by cold temperatures, innovator Alice H. Parker is a person to highlight because she’s why we stay warm.

The Howard University alum, born in 1895, invented the gas heater and today’s HVACR technicians still use her blueprints for the modern, central heating techniques people have in their buildings.

Parker lived in Morristown, New Jersey, and enrolled in Howard University Academy sometime in the 1900s, graduating with honors in 1910.

While living in her family’s small home in Morristown, Parker’s family, among other families, struggled to get heat to circulate the house. While coal and wood were the common methods to bring warmth to homes with fireplaces, they weren’t readily available to some. And even with coal, family members only felt warm near the fireplace and nowhere else in the house.

This struggle prompted Parker to invent the first natural gas heater, or furnace, making circulating heat accessible by using the cold winter air to exchange it for hot air.

She applied for the patent application on July 8, 1919, and was granted patent number 1,325,905 on Dec. 23, 1919.

Parker’s patent proved heat could circulate from the primary burner and disperse to secondary heating tools, distributing heat in the central area where air and vent ducts are placed.

The Buffalo’s design also permitted cool air to be distributed throughout the house. 

Parker’s story is a testament to how racism blurs the truth on how Black labor has been the foundation of America and its economy. Her patent and story contributed to the advancement of Black people and changed the Women’s Liberation Movement game. It showed African American women that obtaining a patent for their invention was possible and remarkable despite their limited opportunities.

In addition to the modern products of Parker’s invention, her legacy continues to be celebrated through numerous awards and grants named after her. The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce recognized and celebrated the women whose inventions have significantly contributed and named one of their awards after Parker. The Alice H. Parker Women Leaders in Innovation Award aims to recognize and celebrate her contribution “to the rich legacy of innovation in New Jersey.”

There are few records on Parker’s life, but Energy News Network claim sources stated she died in 1920 at 24 or 25. Other sources claimed she died from a fire or heat stroke.

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