Here’s what is known about Alice Parker — or, at least, what the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce was able to learn when it named Parker one of the state’s 25 greatest innovators at its Innovation Gala in the fall of 2014.Here’s what is known about Alice Parker — or, at least, what the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce was able to learn when it named Parker one of the state’s 25 greatest innovators at its Innovation Gala in the fall of 2014.
Parker patented the home heating system in 1919 in Morristown. Her innovation led to the modern thermostat and forced-air furnaces that are in most homes and businesses. The innovation led to the replacement of the old heating method: wood-burning fireplaces or stoves.
Parker was an African-American women who earned a certificate from Howard University in Washington, D.C. And, according to a story produced by the chamber, a patent granted to her on Dec. 23, 1919, describes her design for a furnace powered by natural gas.
Here’s what we don’t know: when and where she was born or died. Or really, much else.
According to the chamber story written by Alicia Brooks Waltman, the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center at the Morristown & Morris Township Library has a small file on Parker that includes a copy of her patent. “We have never been able to find any information about Alice regarding her life here in Morristown; where she lived, what she did, whether she was married, or had children, or anything else about her life,” states a summary in the file.
Parker, who was No. 20 on the chamber list, was one of five women named. Others included:
24. Elizabeth Coleman White: Cultivated the blueberry into a $40 million industry;
19. Ida Cohen Rosenthal: Transformed women’s fashions, including the bra, igniting multibillion-dollar industry;
15. Alice Paul: Her unique brand of activism won women equal rights, like the right to vote;
10. Beatrice Alice Hicks: Pioneering engineer, shattered the glass ceiling for women in this field.
At the time of the gala, the chamber reached out, asking for anyone to provide any information they might have on Parker.
No one responded, said Ray Zardetto, the chamber’s senior vice president, communications.
“We never found out anything further,” he said. “We checked with the state historical commission and others. It’s like she’s a ghost.”
Or, rather, the ultimate hidden figure in New Jersey business.