Inventor of the Refrigerated Truck
Fred McKinley Jones is certainly one of the most important Black inventors ever based on the sheer number of inventions he formulated as well as their diversity.
Fred Jones was born on May 17, 1893 in Covington, Kentucky. His father was a white railroad worker of Irish descent and his mother was Black. It is believed that his mother died while he was young and Fred was raised by his father. When Fred was eight years old, his father took him to Cincinnati, Ohio to where they visited St. Mary’s Catholic Church rectory. Fred’s father urged Father Edward A. Ryan to take Fred in in order to expose him to an environment where he might have a better opportunity for gaining an education. Fred performed chores around the church in return for being fed and housed, cutting the grass, shoveling snow, scrubbing floors and learning to cook. At an early age, Fred demonstrated a great interest in mechanical working, whether taking apart a toy, a watch or a kitchen appliance. Eventually he became interested in 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.
Initially hired to sweep and clean the garage, Fred spent much of his time observing the mechanics as they worked on cars. His observation, along with a voracious appetite for learning through reading developed within Fred an incredible base of knowledge about automobiles and their inner workings. Within three years, Fred had become the foreman of the garage. The garage was primarily designed to repair automobiles brought in by customers but also served as a studio for building racing cars. After a few years of building these cars, Fred desired to drive them and soon became one of the most well known racers in the Great Lakes region. After brief stints working aboard a steamship and a hotel, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota began designing and building racecars which he drove them at local tracks and at county fairs. His favorite car was known as Number 15 and it was so well designed it not only defeated other automobile but once triumphed in a race against an airplane.
In 1927, Jones was faced with the problem of helping friend convert their silent movie theater into a “talkie” theater. Not only did he convert scrap metal into the parts necessary to deliver a soundtrack to the video, he also devised ways to stabilize and improve the picture quality. When Joe Numero, the head of Ultraphone Sound Systems heard about Fred’s devices, he invited Fred to come to Minneapolis for a job interview. After taking a position with the company, Fred began improving on many of the existing devices the company sold. Many of his improvements were so significant, representatives from A.T. & T and RCA sat down to talk with Fred and were amazed at the depth of his knowledge on intricate details, particularly in light of his limited educational background. Around this time, Fred came up with a new idea – an automatic ticket-dispensing machine to be used at movie theaters. Fred applied for and received a patent for this device in June of 1939 and the patent rights were eventually sold to RCA.
At some point, Joe Numero was presented with the task of developing a device which would allow large trucks to transport perishable products without them spoiling. Jones set to work and developed a cooling process that could refrigerate the interior of the tractor-trailer. In 1939 Fred and Joe Numero received a patent for the vehicle air-conditioning device which would later be called a Thermo King.
A pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants, including a synthetic form of cortisone
A pioneer in the field of blood transfusions who developed improved techniques for blood storage.
Invented lubrication systems for steam engines. His devices were referred to as “The Real McCoy.”
In addition to installing the Thermo King refrigeration units in trucks and tractor-trailers, Jones modified the original design so they could be outfitted for trains, boats and ships.
During World War II, the Department of Defense found a great need portable refrigeration units for distributing food and blood plasma to troops in the field. The Department called upon Thermo King for a solution. Fred modified his device and soon had developed a prototype which would eventually allow airplanes to parachute these units down behind enemy lines to the waiting troops.
For the next 20 years, Fred Jones continued make improvements on existing devices and devised new inventions when necessary to aid the public. Jones died on February 21, 1961 and was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology, one of the greatest honors an inventor could receive. Jones was the first Black inventor to ever receive such an honor.
Videos About Fred Jones
The Thermo King
- Fred Jones took out 61 patents in his lifetime, 40 of them in field ofrefrigeration.
- Developed the “Model A,” the world’s first successful system for refrigeration transportation. It was designed to be mounted on the underside of semi-trucks, with refrigerant tubing being passed into trailers.
- Received a patent for the Model A in 1939.
- Developed the Model C available exclusively for the U.S. military for use during World War II. Was used to transport blood plasma and temperature-sensitive medication to soldiers serving abroad.
- Was the first African American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers.
- Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.