Alice H. Parker was a Black inventor in the early 20th-century, best known for patenting a central heating system that uses natural gas. Her invention played a key role in the development of the heating systems we have in our homes today.
Little is known about Parker’s life or upbringing, most likely because women, especially women of color at the time, were not documented sufficiently. She was born in 1895 in Morristown, New Jersey, and later attended classes at Howard University in Washington, D.C. To receive a higher education as a Black woman at the time was an achievement in itself.
Parker’s idea for a heating system came from being cold during New Jersey winters when fireplaces did not effectively heat an entire home. Most homeowners a hundred years ago were stocking up on wood or coal to heat their homes. Parker’s design was unique in that it used natural gas, which saved time from chopping wood, and increased safety measures without a fire burning all night. Granted on December 23, 1919, Parker’s patent was not the first for a gas furnace design, but it uniquely involved a multiple yet individually controlled burner system. Although her exact design was never implemented due to concerns with the regulation of heat flow, her system was an important precursor to the modern heating zone system and thermostats as well.
Parker’s legacy endures with the annual Alice H. Parker Women Leaders in Innovation Awards via the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes the contributions of women to innovation in New Jersey, Parker’s home state.