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Drew: About Alice H. Parker: A Black History-Maker Few Know

By Samuetta Hill Drew

Safety is a topic which addresses a wide array of different types of subject matters. With March being National Women’s Month, all the safety articles this month will highlight women who have made significant impacts in the safety arena. Their impacts have influenced safety for the overall general population nationally and often globally.
Last week’s article featured Dr. Kizzemekia Corbett, a 36-year-old Black female who was instrumental in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. This week’s article will go back in time and feature a little-known Black woman, Alice H. Parker. Her fiery intellect, shown merely a few short decades after the end of slavery, still heats up the world today.
Parker was born in 1895 and her death is unknown since adequate records were not generally kept on women, especially Black women, during this era. She grew up in Morristown, New Jersey and attended classes at the Howard University Academy in Washington D.C. The academy was a high school connected to Howard University, and in 1910 Parker earned a certificate with honors from the Academy. Receiving an advanced certificate during this time was unusual for most male and female Americans, but extraordinary for a young Black woman.
On Dec. 23, 1919, Parker filed a patent for her invention of a heating system that used natural gas. It is commonly believed that Parker’s invention stemmed from feeling her fireplace was not sufficiently warming her home through the cold New Jersey winters. Most homeowners during this time in history were stocking up on wood or coal to heat their homes. Parker’s idea to heat different areas of the home by using natural gas and ducts was a major step towards the heating systems used today.
Where Parker’s US Patent No. 1,325,905 was not the first for a gas furnace design, it was the first to involve a multiple- yet individually controlled burner system. Therefore, it was the precursor to the modern heating zone systems and thermostats used today.
Her idea was revolutionary: Her design meant people no longer had to chop and buy wood. It also decreased the risk of house and/or building fires that heating units posed by eliminating the need to leave a burning fireplace on throughout the night. Also, an additional safety measure central heat offers versus a fireplace is the lack of carbon left. Fireplaces leave soot, ash, and creosote behind. Creosote buildup can often cause chimney and house fires.
Alice H. Parker’s patent for her invention was an enormous milestone on so many different levels. It was an outstanding achievement that helps us Keep an Eye on Safety today. Her legacy endures today with the annual Alice H. Parker Women Leaders Innovation Award via the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.