Innovating a Legacy
Alice H. Parker
(b. 1889? d. 1962?)
Alice Parker designed an early concept of the modern-day heating system that laid the groundwork for thermostat heating.
Around the turn of the 20th century, most homes were heated by stoves or fireplaces. Parker designed and patented a more efficient system using a central gas burning furnace that could deliver heated air to rooms throughout the home. This was the first time anyone had thought to use natural gas to heat a home and this laid the groundwork for “zoned” heating. Almost nothing is known about Parker’s life, other than her residency of Morristown, NJ, the date she submitted her patent: December 23, 1919, and that she attended classes at Howard University in Washington D.C. In fact, the picture that is used online to represent her, specifically in a brochure from the New Jersey Council of Commerce (NJCC), does not depict Alice H. Parker. After considerable research, I was not able to find a recorded photograph of Parker. I still depict her using the photograph used by the NJCC, which is actually of a white woman born in 1925. This is an unfortunate reminder that throughout history, black women’s stories were not deemed important enough to record.
The basic function of the thermostat can be seen in Parker’s design. The heating chambers are connected to various rooms in a house and, by valves connected to chains, the amount of heat can be controlled remotely from each room. The modern thermostat, through new wireless technology, allows for remote zoned-heating from smart phones.
1. “Children of William Parchment.” lyons-family.co.uk/Parchment/1831-william-parchment/children-william-parchment/albert-eliz-louise.htm.
2. Hatala, Greg. “Glimpse of History: Morristown Resident's Invention Keeps Us Warm to This Day.” NJ.com, 17 Feb. 2014, www.nj.com/morris/index.ssf/2014/02/glimpse_of_history_morristown_ residents _invention_keeps_us_warm_to_this_day.html.
3. Loh-Hagan, Virginia. Alice H. Parker and the Furnace. Cherry Lake Publishing, 2018.
4. New Jersey Council of Commerce. “The Fascinating History of Alice H. Parker.” New Jersey All-Time Greatest Innovators, 17 Feb. 2014.