Virgie Ammons was an inventor and woman of color who invented a device for dampening fireplaces. She received a patent for a fireplace damper actuating tool on September 30, 1975.
Little is known about the life of Virgie Ammons. One source says she was born on Dec. 29, 1908 in Gaithersburg, Maryland and died on July 12, 2000. She lived in West Virginia for most of her life. Ammons filed her patent on August 6, 1974, at which time she was living in Eglon, West Virginia.
There is no information to be found about her education, training or profession. One unverified source says she was a self-employed caretaker and a practicing Muslim who attended services in Temple Hills.
Fireplace Damper Actuating Tool - Patent US 3,908,633
A fireplace damper actuating tool is a tool that is used to open and close the damper on a fireplace. It keeps the damper from opening or fluttering in the wind. If you have a fireplace or stove, you may be familiar with the sound of a fluttering damper.
A damper is an adjustable plate that fits in the flue of a stove or the chimney of a fireplace. It helps control the draft into the stove or fireplace. Dampers could be a plate that slides across the air opening, or it could be fixed in place in the pipe or flue and turned so the angle allows more or less air flow.
In the days when cooking was done on a stove that was powered by burning wood or coal, adjusting the flue was a way of controlling the temperature. Virgie Ammons may be have been familiar with these stoves, given her date of birth. She may also have lived in an area where electric or gas stoves were not common until later in her life. We have no details as to what her inspiration was for the fireplace damper actuating tool.
With a fireplace, opening the damper allows more air to be drawn into the fireplace from the room and convey the heat up the chimney. More air flow can often result in more flames, but also in losing more heat rather than warming the room.
Keeping the Damper Closed
The patent abstract says Ammons' damper actuating tool addressed the problem of fireplace dampers that flutter and make noise when gusty winds affected the chimney Some dampers do not remain fully shut because they have to be light enough in weight so the operating lever can open them easily. This makes small differences in air pressure between the room and the upper chimney draw them open. She was concerned that even a slightly open damper could cause a significant loss of heat in winter, and could even result in loss of coolness in summer. Both would be a waste of energy.
Her actuating tool allowed the damper to be closed and held closed. She noted that when not in use, the tool could be stored next to the fireplace.
No information was found as to whether her tool was manufactured and marketed.