Fredrick McKinley Jones, founder of Thermo King, will be honored for his contributions to science and technology when he is posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Science and Technology (MST) Hall of Fame during the Tekne Awards gala tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Jones is the inventor of portable refrigeration systems which transformed food transport in this country and around the world. He is recognized as one of the foremost African-American inventors in this country’s history.
In 1991, Jones was the first African-American to be recognized by the U.S. government with the National Medal of Technology, according to Thermo King. During his career, Jones was granted more than 40 patents in the field of refrigeration, including an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. In addition, Jones patented other inventions including many for the film industry. In all, he was granted more than 60 patents before his death on Feb. 21, 1961.
In 1935, Jones designed the first practical and automatic refrigeration unit for trucks and railcars, allowing the transport of food and other perishables across long distances. This device helped lead to the creation of the fast food and frozen food industries.
A similar portable refrigeration system was used by the U.S. during World War II to transport blood and other medicines across the battlefields of Europe, according to a biography at Black History Pages. Part of that invention included a way to parachute the refrigeration system into the battlefield behind enemy lines.
Jones, along with the help of Joseph Numero, a moviemaker who took advantage of several of Jones’ inventions, founded the U.S. Thermo Control Co., which eventually became Thermo King.
Jones’ creations for the movie industry included a device that allowed a silent theater to replay sound, thus making “talkie” movies possible. He also created an automatic ticket dispensing machine and a mechanism that stabilized the picture quality.
Born in Cincinnati in 1893, Jones never finished school. In fact, he never made it past eighth grade, according to Black History Pages.
Jones was born to a father who was a white railroad worker of Irish descent and a black mother, who, according to Black Inventor Online Museum, died when he was very young. Raised by his father, Jones eventually ran away from home at the age of 12. He took a job working at R.C. Crothers Garage and took great interest in the work of the mechanics.
His early interest in the mechanical was just the first indication of the greatness to come.
After coming home from World War I, Jones went to work driving local doctors on their house calls. When the winter weather arrived, though, Jones found driving difficult, so he went to work. According to Black Inventor, Jones attached a set of skis to the undercarriage of an old airplane body and then attached an airplane propeller to a motor. Soon, Jones and the doctors were able to continue making those house calls.
Another doctor complained to Jones that he wished he could get x-rays of patients sooner rather than waiting for the patient to come to the office. That was no problem for Jones, who created a portable x-ray machine. While he never patented his device, others soon picked up on the technology.
On July 30, 2007, Thermo King opened the Fredrick McKinley Jones Research and Development Center at its Bloomington, Minn., headquarters. A 40,000 sq. ft. facility, it is an $8 million state-of-the-art design and testing center.
While most people probably do not know who Fredrick McKinley Jones was, his inventions have touched all our lives. Tomorrow night, many more will learn.