David Nelson Crosthwait Jr.

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr., an African-American pioneer in the field of heating and air conditioning, is best known for heating up Radio City Music Hall.


Born in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 27, 1898, David Nelson Crosthwaite Jr. studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University before taking a job with the C.A. Dunham Company (now Dunham-Bush, Inc.). At Dunham, Crosthwait conducted innovative research, and designed the heat system for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. He held 119 patents—39 in the U.S. and 80 internationally—all in relation to heating, cooling and temperature regulating technology.

Early Life

Engineer, inventor and writer David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. was born on May 27, 1898, in Nashville, Tennessee. An African-American pioneer in the field of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, Crosthwait attended Purdue University, where he studied mechanical engineering. After graduating in 1913, he took a job with the C.A. Dunham Company (now known as Dunham-Bush, Inc.).

Heating and Cooling Inventions

During his time with the C.A. Dunham Company, David Crosthwait held many positions, including director of research. While at Dunham, he conducted research in several areas, including heat transfer and steam transport. His work led to many innovations in HVAC devices and technology, and he held more than 30 U.S. patents. Crosthwait designed HVAC systems, and the heating system at Radio City Music Hall in New York City is perhaps the best-known example of his work.

Besides research, product development and HVAC system design, Crosthwait also advanced his field by writing articles and revising sections of several editions of American Society of Heating and Ventilation Engineers Guide. Crosthwait's accomplishments were recognized by many in his field: He won a medal from the National Technological Association in the 1930s and was made a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in 1971—making him the first African American to receive the honor.


Crosthwait officially retired from Dunham in 1969, after serving as an advisor since 1930. He died on February 25, 1976, in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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