culture

Margaret A. Wilcox, keeping you warm and toasty in your car since 1893

When we get in car today on a cold and frosty morning, one of the first things we do is switch on climate control to regulate the temperature, keeping the cabin nice and toasty.

Today’s climate control systems are complex affairs, offering subtle changes in ambient temperature in 0.5-degree increments. Better systems can customise air temperature for each occupant, with separate controls for front passenger and sometimes, in higher end cars, rear seat passengers.

Throw in heated (and sometimes cooled) seats and heated steering wheels, and there’s no reason for the cabin of a modern car to feel anything but, well, comfortable.

That ability to control the temperature inside a car is down to one enterprising young woman, Margaret A. Wilcox, who patented her invention for a car heater in 1893.

Strictly speaking, her invention was designed for ‘railway cars’ where she noticed those who drove and rode in them during the winter months, were, well, freezing.

Wilcox thought that since engines produce heat, wouldn’t it be a neat idea to channel that heat into the cabin to keep it nice and warm? So simple, and yet no one had previously thought of using the heat from the engine to warm the interior of the car.

Wilcox received a patent for her genius idea in November, 1893. But, it would take over 30 years for her idea to really catch on. Although simple interpretations of her invention were in use in 1917, it wasn’t until Ford started installing her system in its 1929 Model A cars that the idea of keeping car occupants comfy really took off.

Today’s climate control systems are far more complex, but they still use Wilcox’s principles of harnessing the heat created by the engine to warm the interior.

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