Frederick McKinley Jones is the reason why trucking companies around the world can transport perishable goods because he invented the portable refrigeration technology that makes it possible. The world-renowned African-American inventor, entrepreneur, winner of the National Medal of Technology, and National Inventors Hall of Famer was awarded 61 patents during his life. His African American mother abandoned him and his Caucasian father John Jones at a young age.

Frederick_McKinley_Jones -Wikipedia
Frederick_McKinley_Jones -Wikipedia

Working for the railroad Jones struggled to care for Frederick and sent him to live with Father Ryan, a Catholic priest, so he could be educated. Ryan noticed the young Jones had an uncanny ability in electronics and mechanics and encouraged him to perfect this skill. Jones attended school and earned his keep by working around the church doing various jobs until his father died. At age 11 (6th grade) he quit school and moved to Hallock, Minnesota in 1912 where he got his first job working as an automobile mechanic at age 14.

The only time the self-taught mechanic left home was to serve in the Army during World War I. When he returned in 1930 he began to master working with electronics. He got so good he built a transmitter for Hallock's new radio station and picked up another patent for inventing a device that combined sound with motion pictures.

Jones would later move to Minneapolis and began working with Joseph A. Numero. Numero owned Cinema Supplies Inc. and hired Jones to help improve the sound on his companies equipment. In 1938, Jones designed a portable air-cooling device for trucks that would allow them to carry perishable foods. By 1940 he received a patent for his invention, Numero sold his movie sound equipment to RCA and the two co-founded Thermo King (now known as Thermo King Corporation.)

Frederick_McKinley_Jones -Minnesota Historical Society
Frederick_McKinley_Jones -Minnesota Historical Society

By 1949, refrigeration innovations by Frederick M. Jones became a $3 million business! Transporting perishable goods by way of long-haul trucking exploded and expanded to delivering refrigerated cargo by other means of transportation such as rail, air, and sea. During World War II, portable cooling units designed by Jones were used at army hospitals and on open battlefields to store blood, medicine, and food. Amazingly forty of the 61 patents awarded by Jones, were for refrigeration equipment.

In 1944 Jones became the first African American elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. He served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Bureau of Standards in the 50's. Jones died at age 67 in Minneapolis in 1961 of Lung Cancer. In 1977 he was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1991, both Jones and Numero were awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George Bush. Their widows received the awards at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

Below are some of the amazing inventions by the incredible, self-taught African American engineer:

June 27, 1939 – Ticket dispensing machine.
April 28, 1942 – Design for air conditioning unit.
December 14, 1943 – Removable cooling units for compartments.
December 21, 1943 – Means for automatically stopping and starting gas engines.
May 29, 1945 – Two-cycle gas engine.
March 11, 1947 – Two-cycle gas engine.
July 12, 1949 – Automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks.
July 12, 1949 – Starter generator.
July 12, 1949 – Means operated by a starter generator for cooling a gas engine.
July 26, 1949 – Means for thermostatically operating gas engines.
April 18, 1950 – Rotary compressor.
May 23, 1950 – System for controlling operation of refrigeration units.
July 4, 1950 – Design for air conditioning unit.
September 26, 1950 – Engine actuated ventilating system.
October 24, 1950 – Apparatus for heating or cooling atmosphere within an enclosure.
December 26, 1950 – Prefabricated refrigerator construction.
January 8, 1952 – Refrigeration control device.
January 19, 1954 – Methods and means of defrosting a cold diffuser.
December 7, 1954 – Method and means for air conditioning.
February 12, 1957 – Method and means for preserving perishable foodstuffs in transit.
September 2, 1958 – Control device for internal combustion engine.
February 23, 1960 – Thermostat and temperature control system.

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