Alice Parker: The Mother of Natural Gas Heating

  • Adam Kay
  • Natural gas heating has kept tens of millions of Americans warm since the 1920s. It has undoubtedly saved many tens of thousands of lives over the past century. The inventor of the first modern natural gas heating system is not a well-known figure. However, she deserves credit for the impact her invention has had on the lives of millions.

    Alice Parker was an African American woman born in 1895 in New Jersey. She attended Howard University in Washington, DC. As not just a woman, but as a Black woman in early 1900s America, this achievement was doubly impressive in light of the extensive barriers she faced.

    Before the 1920s, heating systems existed but primarily used coal or wood as heating fuel. This could be dangerous, as leaving a fireplace burning overnight risked starting fires that, particularly in the crowded pre-fire-code tenements of early 1900s American cities, could burn out of control.

    Enter Patent Number 1,325,905 – or as Parker called it, “the heating furnace.” This furnace used natural gas routing hot air through a series of ducts to create a vastly more-effective and safer method of home heating. While this furnace never entered commercial use, it was a valuable proof of concept and precursor to the natural gas heating systems common across the United States today.

    In large part, because she was a Black woman in the early 1900s, Parker did not receive the acclaim that this valuable invention deserved. We should be grateful for what she accomplished – and, mindful of the incredible innovations that can be made today by people who only need the chance to see what they can accomplish.