November 3, 2021
Where would we be without Alice Parker? We would be a lot colder! Today, let’s talk about the history of home heating:
Once upon a time, humans had no way of heating themselves at all! They lived in temperate areas to avoid being cold, but about a million years ago, fire was invented! Archaeologists have found ash from wood that seems to have been burned by humans, which is estimated to be about a million years old.
While that’s amazing, it’s nowhere near as impressive as the advancements humans have made since when it comes to heating our homes. One of the earliest forms of heating beyond an open fire was invented by the Romans around 2,500 B.C. and the Koreans about 1,000 B.C. The method is like today’s radiant heat, in that the heat comes up from the floor. Unlike today’s radiant heat, the method devised by the Romans and the Koreans was creating a fire under the ground to heat the floor above that additionally had pipes for ventilation!
Later, after the invention of the home fireplace and the chimney, no notable strides were made until the 1700s, when the stove was invented. (Who the exact inventor is, unfortunately, we don’t know.) From there, it was Benjamin Franklin who invented the Franklin stove in 1742. And if you’re thinking, “But wait! Stoves are for cooking, not heating!” Stoves of the time were far more effective (and less smoky) than fireplaces. Typical stoves were about 30% efficient when it came to the ratio of fuel input vs. heat output, which is … still not great!
There was a better solution out there if only someone were brilliant enough to think of it. And that someone was Alice Parker. Now, we should clarify, Alice Parker is no relation to Parker & Sons, but we are honored to share the last name with her and wanted to tell her story! Unfortunately, not much is known about the African-American inventor and her personal life. She was born in 1895 in Morristown, New Jersey, and was always fascinated with the mechanics of machines. After graduating from college in 1910, she became interested in the fact that, while everyone used coal or wood-burning stoves for heat, there had been almost no advances made in centuries in central heating. Not very much since the radiant flooring invented by Korea and the Roman Empire that we mentioned above.
Alice Parker was also inspired by the bitter cold of New Jersey winters. The stove was not sufficient for sub-zero temperatures! So, Parker illustrated and patented the first-ever design for a gas furnace in 1919. The fuel was natural gas, and then, she invented the concept of a central furnace unit and the head of burners, a heat exchanger, and a ductwork system! Everything we have today in central heating – and we owe all of these concepts to Parker’s imagination and ingenuity.
We’re happy to share Alice’s story with you and be able to carry on the story of home heating in our way. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it – and we want to ensure the story has a happy ending in your Phoenix home!