Each year since 1973, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) has honored visionary U.S. patent holders who have shaped the way we live. As we celebrate our 50th year, we look forward to inducting our 2023 class of Hall of Famers. We invite you to read on to learn about 2023 Inductee James A. Parsons Jr., one of the visionary innovators we are honored to celebrate this Black History Month.
Forging an Innovative Path
Parsons was born in 1900 in Dayton, Ohio. As a young man, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy but he decided not to take it. His father, his high school guidance counselor and his father’s employer, Duriron Co. founder Pierce Schenck, feared he would be unsafe at the academy, so they urged him to instead enroll at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Schenck paid for his studies at RPI, and in turn, Parsons spent his summers working for Duriron, a manufacturer of pumps and valves for chemical processes located in Dayton. This proved to be an important step toward an innovative future for Parsons.
After graduating from RPI in 1922 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Parsons soon took on full-time work at Duriron. As an analytical chemist, he worked on alloy compositions and metal processing methods. He then began to focus on the research and development of corrosion-resistant, stainless steel alloys and high-silicon alloys.
In 1929, Parsons earned the first of eight patents he would obtain in the development and application of noncorrosive metals, and he then began to work on developing the steel formulation that would come to be known as Durimet 20, also known as Alloy 20. Classified as a high-alloy austenitic stainless steel containing nickel and chromium with lesser percentages of molybdenum, copper, silicon, manganese, carbon and other elements, the composition of Durimet 20 is balanced to provide greater sulfuric acid resistance over conventional stainless steels. It also maintains equal or superior resistance to many other important corrosives.
Duriron produced the first commercial castings from Durimet 20 in 1935, and it became the basis for a family of stainless steel alloys used throughout all industries that involve the handling of corrosives.
Parsons received an honorary doctorate from Wilberforce University in 1941, and as he continued his work with Duriron, he became the company’s chief metallurgist and laboratory manager. Upon his retirement in 1953, the Dayton Daily News reported on the team Parsons had managed, noting that Duriron was likely the only company of its kind that had a laboratory which was fully staffed by Black employees.
Building a Legacy
Following Parsons’ retirement from Duriron, he chose to bring his expertise to the field of education. The metallurgy program he organized at Tennessee A&I State University (now Tennessee State University), is believed to be the first of its kind at any historically Black college or university. During his tenure from 1953-66, he served as professor, department head and dean of the engineering school.
He also served as an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University and as an instructor at an occupational training center in Dayton.
Parsons’ honors include a Citation for Meritorious Contributions to the Science of Metals in the Field of Corrosion Resisting Alloys from the American Society of Metals in 1953 and the Distinguished Community Service Award from the Dayton Urban League in 1983. He also was added to the Dayton Walk of Fame in 2007.
Meet More Inspiring 2023 Inductees
To learn more about the visionary creators and innovators who make up our latest class of Hall of Famers, we invite you to visit our website.