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Black History Month & the HVAC Industry

Learn About the Black Inventors That Helped Make Modern Heating & Cooling Possible

Black History Month is a time to remember the journeys and celebrate the achievements of Black people across all areas of life, from civil rights to the various industries. And unbeknownst to many people, the HVAC industry is among those with the richest histories of African-American innovators. Indeed, modern heating and cooling systems wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of these brilliant inventors and engineers. Please keep reading to learn about three Black inventors who shaped the world of HVAC as it’s known today.

David Crosthwait

David Crosthwait was born in 1898 and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. After high school, he went to Purdue University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree and a Master's degree in engineering. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Crosthwait devised numerous heating and refrigeration systems, vacuum pumps, and temperature control devices.

He holds 39 U.S. patents and 80 international patents for his various inventions in heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. Thanks to his reputation and expertise in the field, he was commissioned to create the heating systems for New York’s legendary Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. Crosthwait was awarded numerous honors for his innovations in a time when very few African-American inventors found success. He died in 1976, shortly after receiving an honorary doctorate from Purdue.

Alice Parker

alice parkerAlice H. Parker was born in 1885 in Morristown, New Jersey, and graduated with honors from Howard University Academy in 1910. This accomplishment alone was an extraordinary achievement at the time, as very few Black women were able to receive higher education in the early 20th century. But she didn’t stop there - Parker would also invent a groundbreaking new heating system when Black women inventors were exceedingly rare.

Founded with how ineffective her fireplace was at heating the entire home, Parker devised a system widely regarded as the precursor to modern central heating. Her design used natural gas (rather than coal or wood, the most commonly used fuel sources then) to fuel multiple burners that could heat air and deliver it throughout the home via ducts. Her invention paved the way and served as inspiration for creating thermostats and zone heating, which are still widely used today. Parker secured a patent for her revolutionary design in 1919, not long before she passed.

Lewis Latimer

lewis latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Massachusetts in 1848 and would play a role in some of the most important inventions of the modern world. After serving in the U.S. Navy, where he taught himself the skill of mechanical drawing, he got a job at a law firm, where he got quickly promoted to head patent draftsman.

Latimer would work with Alexander Graham Bell on the patent for the telephone and with Thomas Edison on the design and manufacturing of the electric lightbulb. Latimer also invented a precursor to the air conditioner, designed to cool the air while simultaneously removing contaminants, which significantly impacted the HVAC industry and paved the way for swamp coolers and further advancements in indoor air quality. Latimer died in 1928.

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