Frederick McKinley Jones (May 17, 1893 – February 21, 1961) was an African-American inventor who patented several products in the field of refrigeration. He had over 60 patents. He also made several innovations for sound equipment for “talkie” movies, but they were predominantly unpatented. Several of his unpatented inventions were duplicated and patented by others, such as the portable x-ray machine. The United States government used his portable air conditioner during World War II to preserve medicines and blood serum. He also received over 40 patents in the field of refrigeration.
In 1935 Jones began work on the invention that was to make him famous. One day his employer was playing golf with a farmer. The farmer complained that he had lost many truckloads of his crops because they had spoiled during the shipping. Jones’s employer said that perhaps his company could build a truck to solve the problem of food’s spoiling while it was being taken across the country. When Jones heard what his employer had told the farmer, he began putting old odds and ends of machinery together. When he had finished building his machine, he attached it to a truck.
Later. the system was adapted to a variety of other carriers, including ships and railway cars. His first practical refrigeration unit helped to completely change the food transport industry. Consequently, it eliminated the problem of food spoilage and changed America’s eating habits in addition, Jones developed an air conditioning unit for military field hospitals (which was needed to keep blood serum for transfusions and medicines at exact temperatures), a portable x-ray machine, and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. Jones had created the first mechanically refrigerated truck. This meant that food could be shipped longer distances across the country without spoiling. Fresher and better food would be awaiting the American people in stores. Jones’s invention was a success. His employer formed a company to make the new machines. Jones became the vice-president of the company. His refrigeration unit became the first product of the Thermo King Corporation founded by Joe Numero.
Born in Ohio, Jones served in France during World War I. After the war, he worked as a garage mechanic and. from the knowledge gained in this early experience, developed a self-starting gasoline motor. In the late 1920 s, Jones designed a series of devices for the growing movie industry, adapting silent movie projectors to accommodate talking films, and developing the box-office equipment that delivers tickets and spills out change.
In 1949, the U.S. Thermo Control Company, founded jointly by Jones and his former boss, J.A. Numero, had boomed to a $3,000,000 a year business. They manufactured automatic air coolers for trains, ships and airplanes so that foodstuffs could be kept fresh for long periods of time. And Jones was behind it all.
At fifty years of age, Frederick Jones was one of the outstanding authorities in the field of refrigeration in the United States. In 1944, he was elected to membership in the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. During the l950’s, he was called to Washington to give advice on problems having to do with refrigeration. He was a consultant to both the Defense Department and the United States Bureau of Standards.
As an inventor, he was never satisfied with the improvements he had made in his cooling units. He developed ways that kept the air around the food at a constant temperature. He created other devices that produced special atmospheric conditions to keep strawberries and other fruits from drying out or becoming too ripe before reaching the supermarkets. Still other methods controlled the moisture in the air and air circulation. Jones’ inventions made it possible for the first time to transport meat, fruit, vegetables, eggs, butter, and other produce that needed refrigeration over long distances during any season of the year.
When Frederick McKinley Jones passed away in Minneapolis in 1961, his inventions were serving people throughout the world. He was a behind-the-scenes contributor to many of the luxuries of modern living.
So, the next time that you go to any fast-food restaurant, or when you see one of those big rigs with the refrigerating units on the front end of the trailer, think of the man who made it possible: Frederick McKinley Jones.
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