6 Women Who Positively Influenced the HVAC World

6 Women Who Positively Influenced the HVAC World, Then and Now

Date - 03/06/2023

Woman working in the HVAC industry

Air Therm Salutes Women’s History Month and the Impact Women Have Had On Our Industry

You may be saying, “Wait! No way. The majority of workers in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry are men!”

You are right, but only to a certain extent.

While only 2.6% of the mechanics, techs, and installers in the industry right now are women, that number is expected to grow. More women are going into technical fields, but they also own and manage HVAC businesses. Some are engineers who are advancing the technology of heating and air cooling.

Ever since modern air conditioning was implemented by Willis Carrier in 1902, women have been designing, researching, supporting, and innovating important aspects of the systems we have today.

More Than A Century Ago

Women have positively influenced the HVAC world for more than a hundred years!

The first air conditioner was invented by Willis Carrier in the summer of 1902. His invention was a direct response to a problem at a printing company. The humidity in the air made the paper expand, contract, and curl, causing the different colors to misalign when printing. Carrier figured that if he could control the humidity in the air, the paper wouldn’t change and the printing would always line up.

An engineer from Cornell, Willis Carrier got to work on the problem right away, eventually developing a cooled coil system that solved the paper problem by controlling the humidity in the air.

Modern air conditioning was born.

Kudos to Willis Carrier and his company who saw what smart, educated women could do for his business and didn’t refuse to hire them to work for his new company.

Margaret Ingels: Mechanical Engineer

You may not have heard of Margaret Ingels, but she was influential in the HVAC world right at the beginning.

Margaret Ingels was born in Kentucky in 1892. She went to the University of Kentucky and was its first female engineering graduate in 1916. Ingels is credited with being the second woman in the United States to earn an engineering degree.

She was hired by the newly established Carrier Engineering Corporation where she worked for several years while studying for her professional Mechanical Engineering Degree. In 1920, Margaret Ingels was the first woman in the United States to become a mechanical engineer.

How Margaret Ingels Helped Advance Air Conditioning Technology

In 1921, Ingels joined the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers as a researcher studying the new field of air conditioning. While there, she developed a machine that could determine the amount of dust in rooms.

She went back to Carrier in 1931 where she worked until her retirement. In addition to her machine that calculated the amount of dust in a room, she refined a piece of equipment known as the sling psychrometer, a device that determined the relative humidity in the air. Understanding humidity is a crucial aspect of modern air conditioning today.

Ever since modern air conditioning was implemented by Willis Carrier in 1902, women have been designing, researching, supporting, and innovating important aspects of the systems we have today.

Throughout her lifetime, Ingels was both an author and a spokesperson. She authored 45 technical papers and gave over 200 lectures in twenty years.

In 1940, she was named as one of the 100 women who had a successful career in fields not open to females.

You Wouldn’t Have Central Heat Without Alice Parker

Even though Savannah doesn’t require year-round heat, we do have time when we need to ward off the chill, and we appreciate the convenience of modern central heating.

Did you know that we have central heat because of an African American woman who patented designs for it in 1919?

Born in 1885 in Morrison, New Jersey, Alice Parker was a smart, educated, African American woman. In 1910, records show that she graduated with honors from a co-ed, traditionally black Howard University Academy that had been founded in 1866.

Very little information exists about the life of Alice Parker. We do know that based on census records of time that even though she had a college degree, she worked as a cook in a New Jersey home where her husband also worked as a butler.

We don’t have records of what motivated Alice Parker to design a new way of heating homes.

Maybe while she served as cook at the home, she was cold all the time. Maybe she missed the academic rigor of her earlier studies. Maybe the master or mistress of the home asked her to think about what she could do to improve the heating. Maybe her brain just couldn’t stop thinking about ways to solve problems.

All we know is that Alice understood that a fireplace was not enough by itself to heat a house. She engineered a gas-powered furnace and a system that would distribute heat evenly through individual ducts. She used cold air, pulled it into a heat exchanger, and pushed the resulting warm air into the ductwork. Alice Parker created central heat by developing a system based on individual ducts that allowed her to “zone” her heat and control where it went.

Amazing Woman, Inventor, and Trailblazer

In 1919, decades before Women’s Liberation and the Civil Rights movement, Alice Parker, a black woman, filed for a patent on her furnace. On December 23, 1919, her patent was granted, No. US132590A.

Alice Parker’s contribution to modern HVAC is invaluable. She should be a familiar name, but sadly her contribution to the field has often been overlooked.

Not only did Parker’s innovation make homes more comfortable, but her furnace lessened the fires in homes and businesses that were so prevalent at the turn of the century.

Her design paved the way for efficient home heating by using gas instead of wood and coal.

Her invention instigated others to refine zone heating, thermostats, and forced air furnaces.

One hundred years after Alice Parker received a patent on her furnace, the National Society of Black Physicists honored her invention as “a revolutionary idea for the time that conserved energy and paved the way for central heating systems.”

Maria Telkes, Pioneer In Solar Energy

Long before solar energy was a common term, one woman was figuring out how to trap the sun’s energy.

Dr. Maria Telkes was born and educated in Budapest, Hungary. She earned a Doctorate in Physical Chemistry in 1924 before moving to the United States.

Dr. Telkes was hired by the Cleveland Clinic where she worked with a surgeon to develop a photoelectric machine that could record brain waves.

Later, working for Westinghouse Electric and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), She also engineered the solar distiller, a device that converted seawater into potable water using only sunlight. (This was no little achievement. Her device was carried on life rafts during World War II and was later used in the Virgin Islands to help increase the supply of drinking water.)

But Telkes wasn’t finished. After figuring out how to record brain waves and make drinking water from salty seawater using sunlight, she tackled the issue of trapping solar energy and using it to heat homes. Telkes designed the first solar-powered heating system for residential use.

In 1948, along with architect Eleanor Raymond, Telkes designed and constructed the world’s first modern residence heated with solar energy. The house was built in Dover, Massachusetts.

Much lauded and recognized, Maria Telkes was the first recipient of the Society of Woman Engineers Achievement Award in 1952. Twenty-five years later, she was honored by the national Academy of Sciences Building Research Advisory Board with a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to solar technology.

Her advances in solar heating are changing the world today giving us the opportunity to use renewable solar power to heat and cool our homes.

Air Therm’s Own Remarkable Women In The HVAC World Of Savannah

Air Therm has its own crew of women who positively influence the HVAC world in Savannah.

Holly, Kirsten, and Chantel are the people responsible for bookings and billings, customer support and keeping things going smoothly. We couldn’t function without them and are grateful for these three smart, caring, women who are part of the Air Therm family, positively influencing the HVAC world we inhabit.

We acknowledge these women and all the others around the globe who are furthering the field of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. We appreciate them and know that our children’s children will benefit from their contributions.