In the historic timeline of truck refrigeration, there stands a place for a man by the name of Frederick Jones. Born on May 17, 1893, Frederick McKinley Jones is often credited with "transforming the food industry and America's eating habits with his invention of a practical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars." As in most "innovative" proclamations, there are those who dispute the accuracy of such a statement. It is not the purpose of this post to credit or discredit any of the informative websites which I have stumbled across attesting to the accuracy of such statements. Instead, I would like to celebrate the birth date of Frederick McKinley Jones who indeed had a natural mechanical ability and inventive mind with which he independently enhanced by reading, studying and being productive!
Fred Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to an Irish American railroad worker and an African American mother. It's believed that his mother died when he was very young, although, others say his mother abandoned both him and his father not long after he was born. Like most inquisitive children, he always took things apart. His father found raising a child alone very challenging and at the age of 7, Frederick McKinley Jones was sent by his father, to live and be educated at a Catholic church in Covington, Kentucky. Father Edward A. Ryan, a Catholic priest, took care of Fred and encouraged his interest in mechanics. He gave him responsibilities around the church and rectory which included cleaning, cooking, maintenance, and grounds work. Orphaned at the age of 9, Fred Jones had a very limited education. His formal schooling ended in the sixth grade. (Note: some websites say he was born in Covington Kentucky)
As a boy, Fred loved to work on automobiles so much so that upon turning 12 years of age, he ran away from his home at the rectory and began working at the R.C. Crothers Garage. As the clean up boy at the garage, he observed the methods used by the mechanics. There he became intrigued with gasoline engines and complicated machinery. He also learned about racing cars which eventually would inspire his love for racingand win him a place on regional racetracks. Within 3 years, Fred Jones was made foreman at the garage. Unfortunately or, perhaps, fortunately, Fred Jones was dismissed from the garage around the age of 19. Some say he was fired when he attended a racing competition without permission from his boss. Others say, "he was passionate about race cars and designed and built them for his boss, until a dispute arose over whether or not Jones, a black man, should be allowed to attend the races in which his cars were running."
He exhibited an early passion for the mechanics of the automobile, he then took a job as chief mechanic on a large farm in Hallock, Minnesota, where he was put in charge of maintaining all equipment at the 300,000-acre farm. He next went to work at a garage and farm implement shop, where he again began building and this time racing dirt track cars. He also experimented with early snowmobile design. During WWI, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an electrician and as a mechanic where he achieved the rank of sergeant. He returned to Hallock in 1919. source
The road to refrigeration technology is paved with many successes and failures with each one contributing to the vast amount of perishable food we have learned to depend on from state to state and country to country. Certainly, refrigeration history did not begin with Frederick Jones but, Frederick McKinley Jones has been awarded his place in the history of the transportation industry by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Bureau of Standards, when he was hired as a consultant. He was also honored as the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. By collecting parts from junk yards, and by using a two-cycle engine (of his own invention and patent), he put together the first, successful system for mobile refrigeration. The original patent , which was applied for on November, 16, 1939, was basically for "the application of existing refrigeration technology to transport refrigeration. The technical challenges included building a structural frame and refrigerant tubing connections that would stand up to the constant pounding of road vibrations." source PDF
During his life, Frederick Mckinley Jones was awarded sixty-one patents. Forty were for refrigeration equipment. The United States government used his portable air conditioner during World War II to preserve medicines and blood serum. A list of his patents can be found here. He was inducted into the Inventor's Hall of Fame for patent #2,303,857 (view below Air Conditioner for Vehicles) and into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame both available for viewing on the internet. After his death, Mr. Jones was also the first African American to be awarded with the American National Medal of Technology. The National Medal of Technology is an honor granted by the President of the United States to American inventors and innovators that have made significant contributions to the development of new and important technology. It is the highest honor the United States can confer to a US citizen for achievements related to technological progress. source
Air Conditioner for Vehicles: Our invention relates to air conditioners for compartments of vehicle carriers and has for its primary object to provide in conjunction with a vehicle carrier, such as a truck, railroad car or the like, a means of conditioning the air within the compartment of said carrier by tempering, humidifying and circulating the air therein, which means shall be conveniently attachable to and removable from such carrier and which shall automatically effect the desired air conditioning within the compartment of the carrier. In the transporting of goods, particularly perishable goods such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, dressed poultry and the like, what is known as trucks have come very largely into use because of their mobility, accessibility for loading, and capacity for rapid transportation and smooth carriage of their contents. However, even though trucks move largely at night, conditions of weather, particularly hot weather, have presented serious difficulties. Suitable means for cooling or otherwise tempering or conditioning the air in the compartments of trucks have not been available...patent
The journey made by Frederick Mckinley Jones lasted 68 years. He toiled at the rectory, worked as a garage mechanic, adapted his skills in the movie industry and served his country in WWI. He was also Vice President of engineering at U.S. Thermo Control Company (Thermo King Corporation) which he co-founded with partner Joseph A. Numero. Below is information from the Thermo King website
A prolific inventor throughout his life, Fred Jones' inventions included a snow sled driven by a car engine and airplane propeller, a portable x-ray machine, a condenser microphone, a sound system for early "talking" motion picture theaters, a theater ticket-dispensing machine (patented), the first reliable refrigeration system for trucks (patented), the first reliable front mounted truck refrigeration unit, a portable refrigeration unit for the US Army in World War II, atmosphere controlled boxcar for rail transport, refrigerated containers for ship-board transport, and an improved two-cycle gas engine (patented), among others.
In 2007, Thermo King company officials dedicated an expanded research and development center in Bloomington, Minnesota., to Frederick McKinley Jones. You can read about the dedication in an article by Tom Berg at Heavy Duty Trucking. There is so much available information paved along the information highway that we haven't yet been able to discuss. Perhaps, with the help of the links provided below, you will venture out and discover the fascinating life Frederick McKinley Jones.
In its heyday the Saturday Evening Post was one of the most popular and widely read magazines in the United States, if not the world. So when the publication ran a feature article May 7, 1948, on Fred Jones, it was recognition not only of his fascinating life, but also the importance of Joe Numero's young U.S. Thermo Control Company – later to be renamed Thermo King Corporation. read on...
The Refrigerator Container: In the summer of 1938, Harry Werner, a Minneapolis trucking company executive, met Joseph Numero, a manufacturer of movie theater sound systems, for a round of golf. Afterwards, as the men made their way to the clubhouse, Werner complained to Numero that he was losing loads of chicken to the hot weather. read on...
An American Innovator: During a blistering summer evening in 1937, Fred Jones sat in his car near a lake in Minnesota. The heat was unbearable. He rolled down a window for a breath of fresh air. To his dismay, when he rolled the window down his car filled with mosquitoes. Up the window went to keep mosquitoes out. Down the window went for some air. This cycle of opening and closing the window continued until he reached a point of total frustration. “Why doesn't somebody make a gadget to air condition a car, like they do in theaters?” he said. read on...
- 1. Frederick M. Jones @ MIT
- 2. Fred McKinley Jones @ Black Inventors.com
- 3. Excellent Blog about the Hallock Movie Theatre where Jones worked
- 4. Frederick McKinley Jones Hallock's Handyman (video)
- 3. Thermo King Company History (not Thermo King website excellent & informative)
- 5. Thermo King Dedication
- 6. Minnesota Goes to War: The Home Front During World War II By Dave Kenney (google books pages 149-150)
- 7. This Day in Ohio History By Rebecca Goodman, Barrett J. Brunsman (page 214 google books)
- 8. Revolution in Transportation for Agriculture
- 9. Railway Refrigeration
- 10. Willis Haviland Carrier
- 11. Refrigerator Coined?