Frederick McKinley Jones, one of the most prolific Black inventors of all time, patented over 60 inventions during his lifetime. Despite the fact that more than 40 of those patents were in the field of refrigeration, Jones is best known for inventing an automatic refrigeration system for long haul trucks and railroad cars.
Jones was born on May 17, 1893, in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio. During World War I, he served in France. He returned home and worked as a garage mechanic, where he developed a self-starting gasoline engine. His understanding of electronic devices was largely self-taught, gained through work experience and the invention process.
Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota, after brief stints working on a steamship and in a hotel, and began designing and building race cars, which he drove at local tracks and county fairs. His favorite car was Number 15, and it was beautifully designed. It not only defeated other cars, but it also won a race against an airplane. He soon found work as a mechanic on railroad magnate James J. Hill’s famous Kittson County farm.
Jones created a series of devices for the developing movie/cinema industry in the late 1920s that converted silent movie projectors to use talking movie stock. He also created a machine for the movie theater that delivers tickets and returns change to customers. He created the snowmobile.
Frederick Jones received over 40 patents in the field of refrigeration. He developed the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and railroad cars in 1935. (a roof-mounted cooling device). This system reduced the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips and was later adapted to a variety of other common carriers such as ships and railway cars.
Jones’ innovative designs for mobile refrigeration units resulted in the formation of the Thermo-King Corporation (Minneapolis) in 1935, which revolutionized the field of transport refrigeration for trucks, railcars, and ships. His invention radically altered the eating habits of American consumers, as they could now eat fresh produce in the middle of summer or winter across the country. Frederick Jones also created an air conditioner for military field hospitals as well as a refrigerator for military field kitchens. Jones was one of the most successful African-American inventors of all time.
The Thermo-King revolutionized the shipping and grocery industries. Grocery stores could now import and export products that were previously only available in canned form. As a result, the frozen food industry was born, and consumers could enjoy fresh foods from around the world and the United States for the first time. During WWII, the need for a unit to store blood serum for transfusions and medicines prompted Jones to conduct additional refrigeration research.
He designed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals as well as a refrigerator for military field kitchens to accomplish this. Many lives were saved as a result. His device, in a modified form, is still in use today. Frederick Jones was the first African-American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers in 1944.
During the 1950s, he worked as a consultant for the United States Department of Defense and the United States Bureau of Standards. Jones had more than sixty patents at the time of his death on February 21, 1961. He was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology in recognition of his tremendous achievements as an inventor. Jones was the first black inventor to receive such recognition.