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The African-American Inventors Who Pioneered Modern Comfort

HVAC Technician

Maybe David Nelson Crosthwait Jr., Alice H. Parker, and Frederick McKinley Jones aren’t household names, but you’re certainly familiar with their inventions.

With ingenuity and determination, these are the African-Americans who helped shape modern comfort.

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. (1898-1976)

Crosthwait was an HVAC industry heavyweight in the early 20th century, responsible for the design and development of Radio City Music Hall’s central heating system -- an engineering marvel at the time.

Crosthwait was born in Nashville, earned a full scholarship to Purdue University where he earned a master's degree in engineering, and later an honorary doctorate. He was a prolific inventor, having earned 39 patents in the U.S. and 80 international patents. Among his inventions, a device for temperature control, an improved boiler system, and a vacuum pump.

His contributions to the HVAC industry won him a medal from the National Technological Association. Crosthwait was also the first African American inductee in the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers.

Alice H. Parker (1895-1920)

Parker laid the foundation for modern central air systems when she filed her patent for a furnace that used natural gas.

Her furnace brought cooler air into a heat exchanger. Warm air was then distributed throughout the house through ductwork. This was also a novel concept; most homes at the time had a single floor register.

Parker was born in Morristown, NJ. She earned a certificate with honors from Howard University Academy in 1910. Though her central heating system was never developed, it proved that natural gas was a more efficient and convenient alternative to wood or coal.

Frederick McKinley Jones (1892-1961)

Delivering perishable goods across the country wouldn’t be possible without Jones’ most notable invention: automatic refrigeration in long-haul trucks.

Jones was born in Cincinnati, worked as a mechanical throughout his early career, and received a patent for his transportable cooling unit in 1940. That led to a business partnership with the Thermo King, today a global leader in refrigerated trailers.

Jones earned more than 60 patents, including portable air conditioning, which would prove to be a lifesaver during WWII. Jones served as a consultant to the Defense Department, which distributed his appliance to filed hospitals, bringing injured soldiers much-needed relief from the heat.

In 1944, Jones broke barriers as the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers.

The next time you turn up the thermostat, remember these pioneers who made modern comfort possible. For all of your heating and cooling needs, contact Earnhardt Heating & Cooling at (336) 814-2613.

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