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Petticoat Engineer

December 23, 2002

Syracuse, N.Y. -- When Carrier was getting its start back in the early 1900s, women were pretty much restricted to the roles of homemaker, mother and wife. World War II marked the greatest change in the role of women in the workforce. But Carrier was ahead of its time on this social topic. Margaret Ingels joined Carrier as an engineer in 1917, right around the time that the decision to allow U.S. women the right to vote was being debated by lawmakers.

Even today, the field of engineering is generally thought of first as a “man’s world.” But Margaret Ingels and the 32 years she spent in the mechanical engineering field disproved this myth. As America’s “first woman air conditioning engineer” she was the subject of several articles in national magazines and served on President Herbert Hoover’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership in the late-1920s.

Ingels was the first woman to receive a mechanical engineering degree from any college in the United States. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1916, she joined Carrier the following year as an engineer in the company’s Pittsburgh office. She was appointed to the research staff of the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers in New York, where she became an expert on public school ventilating and heating in 1921. 

She returned to Carrier in 1929 as a specialist in residential air conditioning. She later worked in home office sales, as technical adviser in all advertising, as a sales promotion engineer and as editor of all public relations materials. She frequently spoke to students and women’s groups on the benefits of air conditioning and how they were obtained.Ingels was responsible for developing the “effective temperature” scale to incorporate humidity and air movement in the equation for human comfort.

She was also an author—during her active career she wrote more than 45 technical papers. She was the author of the article “Petticoats and Slide Rules,” which documents the pioneer American women of the engineering field.

A close friend of Willis Carrier, she penned his biography, “Willis Carrier: Father of Air Conditioning,” which was published in 1952. That same year she retired, and traded her prestigious career for domestic life by handing over her hard hat for a silver tea service, which was presented to her by officers and directors of Carrier upon her retirement. In her late days, Ingels could be often found having tea with friends at her apartment -- quite a change from her previous lifestyle!




Margaret Ingels