Published: February 11, 2018

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When was the furnace invented?

Alice H. Parker – an African-American woman from Morristown, New Jersey, had steadily grown tired of the cold northern winters and was convinced there was a better way to heat buildings. An excellent student, she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and graduated in 1910, at a time when few women and African-Americans were able to pursue college degrees.  Likely missing the more temperate D.C. winters, Parker developed an early concept of the modern home heating system. Her system pioneered the evolution of the thermostat and the familiar forced air furnaces in most homes today. Her concept replaced the most common method for heating – burning wood in fireplaces and stoves, a method contributing to urban pollution, indoor air quality problems and aggravating those with respiratory illnesses.

Officially granted a patent on December 23, 1919, Parker’s design shows gas used to power the furnace, unlike the coal or wood typically used at the time (some lucky people had coal-fired radiator systems). Her design enabled cool air from a compartment to be drawn into the furnace. The air was conveyed through a heat exchanger then delivered through ducts to the individual rooms of a house. Because there were no electric blowers, warmth was circulated by the radiant properties of heat and its tendency to flow upward.

While there were some early versions of a furnace dated from the late 1800s and one from 1907, Parker’s design was the first to feature a multiple burner system. Each burner could be individually controlled. Parker conceived the idea of using one single source of centrally located heat, providing warm air via pipes throughout a home. This was the first furnace design leading to the modern heating zone system, ductwork and thermostats.

We’re grateful to enterprising individuals such as Ms. Parker. She saw a problem and used her knowledge and tenacity to solve it. Let us bring the same resolve to your home heating and cooling, whether you have issues or are curious about new technologies and products. Even if you’re just interested in learning more about the history of the furnace, Give us a call anytime. We’re happy to share our knowledge of heating and cooling with you!