Women's History Month: The Women Who Built HVAC of Today

Drawing of Alice H. Parker's "Heating Furnace" Filed with her patent.

It is well-known women, for much of American history, did not have equal access to education. Women were often left out of the classrooms, debates, and laboratories where scientific discovery takes place. This makes the innovations of the following women even more remarkable. Their passion for education and science had to overcome tremendous hurdles to leave their mark on the world. The two ingenious women on our list not only created brilliant technology we still use today, but they did it in a time when their choice to do so was groundbreaking in and of itself.

Alice H. Parker

Alice H. Parker is the mother of the modern gas heating system. Her invention fundamentally transformed home heating. Prior to her invention, which she called a “heating furnace,” people's only options were either a wood fireplace or a coal stove for warmth. She introduced the concept of using natural gas with ductwork and incorporated separate, individually controlled heating elements in each room. While her exact design was never put into use, it laid the foundation for the systems we use today.

Unfortunately, not much is known about Alice’s life. A few photos circulating online are often associated with her, but they are misattributed. There are no confirmed photos of Alice H. Parker. It is believed a 1920 census record from New Jersey is one of the only records of Alice H. Paker. It state’s she was a married, 35-year-old cook who was born in Virginia. It is believed she attended Howard University under her maiden name. However, there are no records to confirm she did.

The only thing known for sure about Alice H. Parker is that on December 23, 1919, when she applied for Patent Number 1,325,905, she change the future of HVAC.

Margaret Ingels

Margaret Ingels was the first woman to earn a graduate degree in mechanical engineering in America in 1920. She was the first female engineering graduate of the University of Kentucky in 1916. She published over fifty papers on air conditioning, including Comparative Tests of Instruments for Determining Atmospheric Dusts in 1925, which gave way to the Anderson-Armspach dust determinator, the industry standard for air filtration, and the sling psychrometer, a relative air humidity measurement. Both are still in use today. She also helped develop the “effective temperature” scale, which is a scale used to account for humidity and air movement in determining human comfort.

Unlike Alice H. Parker and her invention, Margaret was acknowledged and celebrated in her lifetime. In 1931, President Hoover invited Margaret to Washington to attend the President’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership.

As women continue to break down barriers in all industries, we see the benefits of their presence. Women who are interested in a career in HVAC can find programs in their local universities and community colleges, like the one here in St. Tammany Parish at Northshore Technical Community College.

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