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Black History

Inventors of HVAC Technology

From left to right: Frederick McKinley Jones, David Crosthwaith Jr., Alice Parker

Who were a few of the notable African American inventors of HVAC technology?

  1. Fredrick McKinley Jones, a co-founder of Thermo King, invented the portable air conditioning unit in 1938. Report: Jones’s self-contained, automatic air conditioning unit revolutionized not just the HVAC industry, but also the food industry. Thanks to his invention, grocery chains and food production companies could now import and export perishable products that previously could only be distributed as canned items. The portable AC unit gave rise to a new industry of frozen foods.
    Jones was naturally innovative, and in his lifetime he came up with a diverse array of inventions that shaped the modern-day world. He has over 61 patents and is also accredited with the innovation of many other creations which he never patented. Some of his other inventions include:
    Portable X-ray machine
    Radio transmitter
    Personal radio sets
    Motion picture devices
    Automatic ticket-dispensing machine
    Gasoline engines
    The prolific African American inventor had to leave school at only nine years old, after his mother’s death. He was raised by a priest until he was sixteen.
  2. Alice Parker is called the Mother of Modern Gas HVAC Systems. Little is known about Ms. Parker, but it doesn’t make her less of a heroine. Alice revolutionized the world of HVAC by inventing a gas furnace with ductwork at a time when people used wood and coal for central heating.
    Her concept served as a precursor for modern heating systems and even inspired other HVAC innovations such as the thermostat.
    Alice received a patent for her invention in 1919. This was such a remarkable feat and an inspiration to millions of black women around the world. She achieved the impossible at a time when women, let alone those of African American descent, faced intense and unfair adversity.
  3. David Crosthwait Jr., invented an upgraded thermostat control and upgraded boiler systems
    If we were to name one black man who was entirely dedicated to improving the HVAC world, it would be David Crosthwait Jr. Crosthwaite degrees were in degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University at a time when it was extremely rare for a black man to achieve such a feat in the sciences.
    He then joined Dunham Company where his specialty was designing, installing, and diagnosing heating systems. This black man invented an upgraded boiler system and a thermostat control that significantly improved ventilation systems for larger buildings. Crosthwait’s most notable projects include heating systems for:
    New York’s Radio City Music Hall (where he worked for 40 years)
    The Rockefeller Center
    Crosthwait holds 39 U.S. patents and 80 international ones related to HVAC. He’s also accredited with the invention of most of modern:
    Heating systems
    Refrigeration solutions
    Temperature regulation devices
    Vacuum pumps
    For these inventions, Mr. Crosthwaite obtained 119 patents — 39 United States and 80 international.
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