Editor’s note: Hosanna Terrell-Causey is a high school student and daughter of Williams employee Ceretha Terrell-Causey. She’s also the author of this children’s education book about natural gas.
Did you know that Alice H. Parker, an African American woman, was the first to develop central heating using natural gas? Her initial designs are the foundation of what we use in our homes today. Little is known about her, but here is what we do know.
Parker was born in 1885 in Morristown, New Jersey. She received a good education at Howard University Academy, an affiliated school of the historic black university in Washington D.C., where she graduated with honors in 1910.
Natural gas was almost entirely utilized as a light source during most of the 19th century. Robert Bunsen, for example, combined air and natural gas to create a small flame now known as a Bunsen burner. During Parker’s time, the most common way to heat a home was to burn coal or wood in a fireplace. Throughout the chilly New Jersey winters, she felt a fireplace was ineffective at heating her entire home. With her invention, cool air was brought into a furnace and passed through a heat exchanger, to be distributed through ducts, to individual rooms of a house. This would eliminate the need to buy or chop wood or leave a fireplace burning overnight.
Parker’s idea utilizing natural gas received a patent in 1919 that depicted a gas-fired “heating furnace.” This was a very rare and exceptional accomplishment for an African American or woman at that time. It’s important to share her story and invention because she received little to no credit for her significant achievement. If you want to learn more about Alice H. Parker, consider looking at her patent and reading the links below: