Black Inventors in Energy Efficiency: David Crosthwait

When we think about energy efficiency, we usually think of new appliances and tips for reducing utility bills. However, it’s important to honor historical innovators who paved the way for safe, energy efficient, modern appliances and systems. Major contributions to energy sciences have been made by Black inventors like David Crosthwait, who created an improved boiler system and thermostat control, among many other achievements. In fact, you can think of him as the father of modern HVAC systems.  

David Nelson Crosthwait, Jr. (1898–1976) was a native of Nashville, Tennessee. While attending an all-Black school in Kansas City, Kansas, he earned a full academic scholarship to Purdue University, where he studied mechanical engineering. He earned a Bachelor of Science and a master’s degree and began working at C.A. Dunham Company (now Dunham-Bush). Just a few of his accomplishments include the following: 

  • In the 1920s–1930s, Crosthwait invented an improved boiler system, a new thermostat control, a new differential vacuum pump, and other items in an effort to improve ventilation system efficiency in large buildings. 
  • He wrote a manual for heating and cooling with water as well as guides, standards, and codes for HVAC systems (in other words, he literally wrote the book on HVAC). 
  • In the 1920s, Crosthwait became the research department director of the C.A. Dunham Company. Between 1930 and 1971, he served as the company technical advisor for what by then had become Dunham-Bush.
  • As his highest-profile project, Crosthwait was commissioned to design the steam system used to heat Radio City Music Hall in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. 
  • Over his career, Crosthwait held 119 patents in temperature-regulating technology (helping dads everywhere keep an eagle eye on household thermostats ever since).
  • During his retirement, he taught a course on steam-heating theory and control systems at Purdue University and earned an honorary doctorate degree there in 1975. 
  • In 1971, Crosthwait became the first Black fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. He was also named Fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, and additionally served as a member of the American Chemical Society and the National Society of Professional Engineers. 

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You can support the legacies of these inventors and scientists by changing the way you think about energy efficiency. And making your home more efficient can save you cash now and all year long. Michigan Saves financing can help you quickly turn your house into a comfortable and energy efficient home by paying for virtually any energy upgrade you need. We’re also committed to developing strategies for addressing systemic racism and helping underrepresented populations access benefits related to energy efficiency. 

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