Most people still think of the HVAC as being a traditionally male industry.
I get that, and it’s somewhat true since only 2.6% of the working technicians today are women. That figure, however, is expected to dramatically increase in the next decade as more technical courses are offered and more women embark on previously male-dominated careers.
Even though women make up a small percentage of technicians, they DO play very significant roles in other parts of the industry. Some are working as engineers and scientists to improve equipment. Others are running businesses and managing companies that deal with HVAC manufacturing and installation.
But I bet you didn’t know that women have made vital contributions to the HVAC industry for more than a hundred and twenty years!
From Willis Carrier and the beginning of air conditioning
It all started with Willis Carrier.
Willis Carrier was an engineer who graduated from Cornell. He invented the first modern air conditioning system in 1902 when he worked to solve a problem for a printing company.
You see, the humidity in the air was causing the paper to curl and change sizes which meant that when each of the colors was printed, they didn’t always line up where they were supposed to. By taking the humidity out of the air, the paper didn’t expand and the misalignment of colors was solved.
Willis Carrier had developed a way to control indoor air temperature, and the world was forever changed.
In 1915, Carrier established his air conditioning company, Carrier Engineering Company, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Carrier was a smart guy who wasn’t afraid to hire smart women, even in 1917. Lucky for us, he hired Margaret Ingels who made crucial contributions to the development of air conditioning technology in its fledgling days.
Born in 1892 in Kentucky, Ingels became the first woman to graduate from the University of Kentucky with an engineering degree in 1916.
She was hired by the newly established Carrier Engineering Corporation where she worked for several years learning about air conditioning. While Ingels was at Carrier in her early years, she also studied for her professional Mechanical Engineering Degree.
In 1920, Maria Ingels was the first woman in the United States to earn a mechanical engineering degree. She joined the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers in. While there, she designed a machine that could measure dust levels in rooms, and she refined the sling psychrometer, a device used to determine the relative humidity in the air.
She went back to Carrier in 1931 and worked until her retirement, refining, researching, and developing equipment and concepts that shaped modern air conditioning technology and laid the foundation for the more efficient and effective HVAC systems we have today.
Alice Parker was another trailblazing inventor who left her mark on the HVAC industry. Born in 1885 in New Jersey, Parker was a smart and educated African American woman who graduated with honors from Howard University Academy in 1910.
We don’t know much about Alice Parker, but census records show that even though she had a degree, she worked as a cook in a household where her husband was a butler.
Apparently, while she was cooking for a living, she was also using her skills and intellect to solve a problem.
Alice Parker must have been cold and frustrated by the ability of a wood furnace to heat individual rooms in the entire house.
In 1919, she patented designs for a gas-powered furnace and a system of individual ducts that distributed heat evenly, creating the first modern central heating system. Parker's invention paved the way for efficient home heating by using gas instead of wood and coal. Her design prompted others to refine zone heating, thermostats, and forced air furnaces, paving the way for today’s central heating systems.
Maria Telkes, a Hungarian-American physical chemist and biophysicist, made significant contributions to the development of solar energy technology.
Born in Budapest in 1900, Telkes earned her Doctorate in Physical Chemistry in 1924 before moving to the United States. Working for the Cleveland Clinic and Westinghouse Electric, she partnered with a surgeon to create a machine that could record brain waves.
That major accomplishment was just the beginning.
Maria Telkes then developed the solar distiller, a device that could convert seawater into potable water using only sunlight. Her device was carried on life rafts during World War II and later used in the Virgin Islands to help increase the supply of drinking water.
Telkes kept going. She was fascinated by the power of the sun and worked to create systems that would harness that renewable energy. In 1948, she, along with architect Eleanor Raymond, constructed the world’s first modern residence with solar energy in Dover, Massachusetts.
Telkes' advances in solar heating technology have played a significant role in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy sources.
Just getting started
Women have been making significant contributions to the HVAC industry for over a century. From designing and refining air conditioning technology to creating innovative heating and energy systems, these women have left their mark on the industry and continue to inspire future generations.
The air conditioning market is projected to grow to 198 BILLION dollars by 2031. As the market grows, more and more women will devote their energies to advancing the comfort of our world. For us. For future generations.
ServiceOne salutes women in the HVAC world
ServiceOne salutes and supports women in the HVAC world. We don’t yet have a female technician, but we’re open to that if one presents herself!
We can help you with any air conditioning, heating, or plumbing need you have. Call us!